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Harnessing Talent And Diversity To Drive Opportunity In SA’s IT industry

The rapid digitisation forced by the pandemic has vividly shown how the IT industry, especially cloud computing, is poised to continue growing in its efforts to service a larger market. While this is exciting, the industry is faced with the vital task of ensuring there is enough talent to meet demand. The knock-on effect is that we can make a real difference in pursuing diversity and bringing talented people from disadvantaged segments of the population into the industry.

One of the most pressing challenges in the IT environment is a skills shortage, which the government has acknowledged in its latest critical skills list, and if we creatively and collaboratively work together we can find a solution that addresses one of South Africa’s biggest challenges: job creation and transformation. 

This is an exciting opportunity because while there have been big strides, the industry is not yet representative of the country’s demographics. With collaboration and creativity, we can grow the pool and build strength as we harness the diverse potential we have. 

Let’s start with the existing skills pool. We often have discussions with our channel partners and one of the predominant challenges in the industry is the need to upskill alongside growing the actual skills pool. Often, if partners need a particular set of skills, they look at poaching these from other partners, and if customers need similar skills, they also look to recycle the same skills out of necessity. In essence, there is a churn which is worsened by highly skilled people leaving the country to go and work in other regions. 

If we consider how tight and how pressed the environment is, it is difficult to find three or five days of a partner’s time for training, yet this training is crucial to the channel. Customers are looking for partners who are specialists in their areas to deliver as-a-service offerings, because in many cases, they, too, lack the skills required. 

However, in the cloud space, the trend is towards no longer being specialists in just one aspect, such as back-up. Rather, partners need to understand back-up, security and networking, among other crucial areas. With the Protection of Personal Information Act going live, compliance adds further challenges. Beyond this, many customers want multi-cloud strategies and so partners need to be appropriately skilled across the hyper scalers. 

Ultimately, it means that there is constant pressure on the channel to upskill – for partners to identify areas where they want to specialise and then continually upskill. If we consider that a degree may be 20 years old – in the IT world that is a lifetime – we have a strong reason to continually update our training and encourage the channel to take advantage of this.

Outside of upskilling, increasing the size of the skills pool with fresh blood is an exciting prospect – for the IT industry and the country. If we are honest, while most people understand the importance of IT, it has not always been sold as the “coolest” of careers. 

Thankfully, among our partners and in the wider industry, there are inspiring programmes that seek to identify talent – learners fresh from school, and then take them through basic training programmes. As a broader industry, this provides exciting opportunities for each of us to look at where we can tap into, or support, initiatives like these because it is the industry and country that will benefit. 

Most of the young people identified in these programmes are from disadvantaged backgrounds. An area that we are looking into, and which we know others are too, is to identify these young talented people who have been given a solid background, and then grow them into specialists in key growth areas. Transformation has proved challenging for the industry and so when we have the opportunity to identify talent, we must nurture it.

Our wish is that we get collaboration right within the IT community because there is so much goodwill. We can identify talent, build a foundation, and then grow young people into area specialists with the view that they are employed in organisations throughout the channel. 

This way we help address the pressing skills shortage in the IT sector, we widen the talent pool, and we give work experience to young talented people who can start long, prosperous IT careers. Perhaps the most exciting outcome is driving the realisation of the diverse talent pool available in South Africa. 

By: Lisa Strydom, Senior Manager of Channel & Alliances: Africa