It is critical that South Africa’s social partners and education authorities recognise that the current silo approach to developing and sharing information and communication technology (ICT) will impede job creation.

The collection of vital employment data continues to be disjointed and inconsistent.

It also makes it virtually impossible to identify what skills the country needs to ensure that its ability to participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and not be a bystander.

The is according a 2018 survey by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), which is a University of Witwatersrand partnership with government and industry, and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).

“The JCSE and IITPSA urge all the stakeholders to recognise their dependence on ICTs and to integrate their activities, horizontally and vertically, to create a sound, holistic foundational view of the attributes and dynamics of the country’s ICT enterprises and practitioners,” the document reads.

“These comments sound familiar because they are. South Africa’s leaders must come together to create the critical mass required to energise the economy through implementation of ICTs and, in particular domestic products and services that can leverage the access to global markets.”

The yearly survey of skills tends in the country, says a major concern is just how the 2018 National List of Occupations in High Demand was compiled, as “it is very difficult to see how this list was derived and impossible to quantify the numbers of practitioners required and what the trends are”.

The list contains a broad range of ICT occupations such as chief information officer, ICT project manager, data management manager, application development manager, information systems manager, IT manager, computer quality assurance specialist and ICT communications assistant, which it says is curious as it appears in the list of much more senior roles.

Higher- and high-demand occupations in the ICT sphere include ICT systems analyst, software developer, ICT risk specialist, programmer analyst, developer programmer, applications programmer, data quality officer, decision support analyst, computer network technician, geographic information system specialists and technicians, multimedia designer and web designer, web developer, database designer and administrator, computer network and systems engineer, network analyst and ICT security specialist.

“… the lack of consistency in the approach and timing of the various sector skills plans makes it very difficult to extract a holistic view of the demand for ICT skills nationwide. At the very best, the data is based on reports from levy-paying enterprises, leaving a large number of unreported needs from the mass of SMMEs found in many of these sectors,” the survey says.

According to its respondents though, they continue to show a more “muted” view of their top ICT priorities.

Information Security remains the greatest concern given the number of hacks and “leaks” happening locally and globally. The increased legislative focus such as the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are also keeping information security at number one.

Last year reinforces Information Security/Cyber Security as the leading priority, with familiar faces among the next group of five – Development (Applications, Web and Database), Business Intelligence/Knowledge Management and Network Infrastructure, the survey reads.

Software as a Service/Cloud Computing has retreated from its giddy heights of six or seven years ago. Up-and-coming and newcomers include Big Data/IoT (Internet of Things), Artificial Intelligence and Payment Systems. IoT and Big Data are also reported by Brainstorm’s CIO Survey as focus areas for CIOs.

Slipping out of the priority zone, as the technologies become less of a challenge and easier to implement are areas such as Wireless and Unified Communications, Operating Systems, Mobile Computing, Data Storage, Hardware, SOA (Service-Orientated Architecture) and Bandwidth.

On the skills shortage the survey warns that big data design/analytics, together with the new categories of blockchain, AI and data science, show high demand now and next year with low sufficiency for both periods.

At the other extreme, implementation/support shows that significantly more respondents are satisfied with the supply of these skills than anticipate them being in short supply.

“… it is concerning that the proportion reporting a serious impact of the skills shortage on their business remains so high. In 2008, all respondents indicated that the skills shortage was having at least a major effect on their business. On average, the picture is slightly better since then.

“In 2017, the serious impact level returned to 75% of respondents, leading us to ask what would be the potential improvement in the ICT economy if the skills gap could be closed significantly – and, by extension, the contribution this would make to the country’s GDP?

“In 2018, we have a slightly more optimistic reading of 65% of respondents still concerned about the impact of the technical skills shortage on their business prospects. In the same vein, the global economy effect has abated a little…,” the survey says.

In its corporate summary, the survey raises concerns over Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). In 2011 it called for greater cooperation between the SETAs in respect of ICT roles performed across the board. But despite the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT Seta) agreeing the facilitate collaboration, it says there has been no appreciable progress.

“It does not make sense that the collection of vital employment data continues to be disjointed and inconsistent. In 2016, we noted that the MICT Seta had embarked on a project to map the OFO (organising framework of occupations) codes to industry job roles and qualifications pathways. We have yet to see the results of the project which we hoped would improve the coordination between the SETAs, StatsSA and the Departments of Labour and Higher Education & Training,” the document says.

It warns that overall, the ICT skills shortage continues to constrain South Africa’s capacity to increase economic activity and create jobs.

Another major concern is that although there is a dire lack of skills, major ICT companies continue to retrench employees. This highlights the dilemma facing South African decision-makers, knowing the vital necessity for ICTs as enablers of growth but lacking available investment resources.

However, on the upside, there have been some “remarkable shifts” on the political front, but much will depend on whether the promises made ahead of the 2019 general elections are rhetoric or the foundation for real action.