South Africa’s Sectoral and Education Authority (Setas) have come under fire again for not planning properly for the skills changes needed to harness the potential of the digital economy.

Skills survey warns that despite changes to sector skill plans, not enough is being done to ensure the employability of the country’s youngsters

In a survey undertaken by Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), they warn that there is still a dire shortage of skills in the country’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector. These findings are similar to the same survey conducted last year – the JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey. This is despite a push by government for the country to start embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and lending its full support to South Africa’s first Digital Economy Summit hosted by 4IRSA in July.

The most recent tenth edition of the survey warns that skills associated with the current set of emerging technologies are the scarcest. “There is, however, a significant change sweeping through South Africa’s digital economy. Most of the SETAs have made reference to significant changes in the digital landscape in their most recent sector skills plans ((SSPs),” the report reads.

“While these changes are largely seen as important and potentially disruptive, we are yet to see a coherent and coordinated strategy from the SETAs to address these future skills needs.”

This lack of coherence is common throughout the government, business, labour and academia. Up until now, they have largely adopted a silo approach while attempting to go digital and revolutionise. The survey confirms that both companies and individual practitioners are aware that skills and jobs are heading into uncharted territory.


The survey says that according to the latest published Seta sector skills plans (SSPs), there has been a shift in emphasis from scarce and critical skills to hard-to-fill-vacancies (HTFVs). There is a special focus on Media and ICT (MICT) Seta in the document as it is key to help grow the country’s economy. The MICT Seta sectors contributed almost 10% of the national Growth Domestic Product. The overall ICT market in South Africa is forecast to reach R273 billion (eight percent of the GDP by 2021).

Despite economic growth opportunities, the MICT sector has been lagging. Only the Film and Electronic Media, as well as the Electronics sub-sectors, have been vibrant. Employment data submitted last year also confirms that a general perception that there has been an adverse trend on the labour market. It shows that job numbers are down from 238,785 people in 2017 to 193,604 last year. The MICT sector is currently made up of nearly 29,000 companies spread across the five subsectors.

These are the top 10 HDTVs in the sector:

  • Software developers
  • Computer network and systems engineers
  • ICT systems analysts
  • Programmer analysts
  • ICT security specialists
  • Business analysts
  • Multimedia designers
  • Advertising specialists
  • Database designers and administrators
  • Telecommunications network engineers

The survey has identified key trends that will affect the MICT market as a result of the 4IR. The include cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, big data analytics, information security, vendor programmes, and the skills gap.

“The MICT sector is increasingly operating in an ever-changing environment where new trends are emerging all the time. Workers in the sector have to constantly upgrade their skills to keep abreast of the latest developments,” the document reads.

“At the same time as people skilled in technologies move on or retire, there is still a need for maintenance of these systems based on old technologies. That means gaps exist for old technologies where new entrants lack such skills as well as for all the new technologies being rapidly introduced.”
Critical skills missing in the sector include management and leadership skills, customer service skills, technical skills and production efficiency skills.


The document warns that the continued fragmentation of stakeholder groups in the ICT sector inhibits the ability to take a holistic approach to analysing the data available from the myriad role-players. It also says another major problem that should have been addressed ages ago and will help the country embrace 4IR is the delayed rollout of broadband access across the country.

“The failure to achieve the objectives of SA Connect is denying millions of South Africans access to broadband services and severely restricting the government’s capacity for service delivery through offices that are unconnected,” it reads.

The poor state of education is again highlighted as a stumbling block. In particular, the low number of learners who are competent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “There are many initiatives attempting to address this issue, but they tend to be in relatively small pockets and are not resolving the underlying lack of appropriate curriculum, relevant teaching materials and skilled teachers.”

Although many stakeholders are making a concerted effort to improve the competency and employability of young people through some excellent initiatives, the results tend to be counted in terms of hundreds or maybe thousands of candidates when what is needed is opportunities for hundreds of thousands.

“Since developing skills in the numbers and at the levels they will be required can take several years, it is critically important for all stakeholders to urgently address future skills needs. Having said that, however, ‘legacy’ skills are still in huge demand and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” the report reads.

By: Amy Musgrave