SA ICT employers, practitioners look to global skills markets

The number of South African employers reporting they are recruiting ICT skills overseas has increased dramatically in the past year – up from 38% to over 50%.

This is a key finding in the 2022 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey – the 12th to carried out by Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) in partnership with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), with the support of the Information Technology Association (ITA).

The study’s authors, Adrian Schofield, production consultant at the IITPSA, and Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, describe the growing trend to recruit foreign skills as “disturbing, given the continuing high levels of unemployment in South Africa”.

With pressures on business margins making employers less willing to wait for graduates to ‘get up to speed’, the number of enterprises saying it had become harder to recruit increased from 20% last year to 35% this year. Employers recruiting skills overseas say critical skills visas are growing in importance, and that changes to the critical skills list and critical skills visa (CSV) criteria have impacted many of them, with 25% saying the list amended in 2022 has made it harder to obtain the skills they need.

The study report notes that many holders of CSVs under the 2014 criteria will now not be able to renew or extend their visas.

Foreign skills markets have also become more attractive for local ICT practitioners, with almost 30% of respondents already working, or planning to work, remotely, and more than 50% saying they are considering doing so.

Dwolatzky says: “Although firm statistics are not readily available, we do know that many highly qualified and experienced ICT practitioners are taking their skills overseas, to more stable social environments, to more lucrative economies and to better futures for their families. This represents a massive drain on our education and training resources, as the return on our investment in these practitioners is gained by the foreign territory.”

MICT sector size in 2022

The Media, Information and Communication Technologies (MICT) sector now comprises 32 985 employers across five sub-sectors, representing a 7% decrease from the 35 569 in the previous financial year with the number of employees increasing to 228,990. However, more than half of ICT practitioners work in non-MICT sectors, including retail, financial, services, public sector, manufacturing, mining and health.

Changing enterprise skills priorities

The 2022 ICT Skills Survey tracked changes in enterprise priorities since 2008. It found that 14 years ago, the top priorities were Business Intelligence/ Knowledge Management, Application Development and Software as a Service, followed by Service Oriented Architecture, Web Development and Mobile Computing. This year, they are Information Security/Cybersecurity, Big Data/Data Analytics, DevOps, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things.

Top 5 hard-to-fill vacancies, slowing demand

The top five occupations reported by the SETA with hard to fill vacancies in the MICT sector are Software Developer (1435 vacancies), Computer Network and Systems Engineer (1070 vacancies), ICT Systems Analyst (1036 vacancies), ICT Security Specialist (270 vacancies) and Developer Programmer (252 vacancies).

The study authors note that these vacancy numbers are lower than they were last year, indicative of “a severe slowing of growth in the sector”.

Schofield says: “The demand for skills generally, and for ICT skills in particular, is subject to a wide range of influences. These include the depressed state of the economy, uncertain political stability, fallout from exposure to crime and corruption and the introduction of new and improved technologies.”

The key drivers of change influencing skills demand and supply across the MICT sector in future include artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data analytics, 5G and internet of things. In other sectoral SETAs, the study authors find growing demand for 4IR skills, particularly in areas such as data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with developer programmers and cyber security specialists.

Multi-tasking and upskilling across the board

The survey found that the average South African ICT practitioner continues to perform multiple task sets, with only a few identifying their role as “specialist” in nature.

100% of respondents believe they need to keep upskilling themselves to stay relevant in a changing environment, through a combination of on-site learning, e-learning/podcasts, and knowledge sharing. Around 70% seek ‘on the job experience or mentoring’, and almost half want ‘proof of learning’ in the form of a certificate, diploma or degree.

However, Schofield said: “The pressure of work makes less time available for continuing academic studies, even on a part-time basis.”

Education to support work-ready graduates

The survey also found that among ICT practitioners, only half of ICT graduates are able to find employment immediately after graduating, with around 25% taking 6 months to a year to find work.

Schofield said: “It continues to disappoint us that a significant proportion are still having to wait up to one year to become employed.”

The survey highlighted an urgent and persistent need to raise the game in the education pipeline, to close the local ICT skills gaps.

Said Schofield: “It is incumbent on the private sector to drive the required changes through partnership with government and expansion of the many initiatives taking place. We are heartened by the planned changes to curriculum and teacher training but it is vital that these plans are implemented without delay and with appropriate funding. Equally important as strengthening the skills pipeline is the creation of work opportunities for the newly-skilled.”

RPA, ML threaten jobs of young, black women

The research also found that while the job vulnerability of the female population as a whole has decreased between 2009 and 2019, the vulnerability of young, black women has increased in this ten-year period. The report noted that young, black women who ten years ago might have typically been employed in relatively unskilled occupations such as domestic work, cleaning and care had now moved into higher-skilled clerical and service-oriented occupations. However, these occupations –characterised by routine and repetitive occupational tasks – are highly vulnerable to displacement by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) software systems, such as robotic process automation (RPA).

The complete results of the survey can be found here JCSE – IITPSA Skills Survey | IITPSA