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IT leaders need skills focus

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South Africa is seeing a massive demand for – and a lack of – skilled IT professionals. This is becoming an issue for the country’s IT industry and if no change occurs, could be detrimental not only to the economy, writes GARETH HAWKEY, CEO of redPanda Software.

In a business environment that is now largely driven by innovative IT and software, there is massive demand for skilled and highly trained IT professionals. Sadly, as has been well documented, there is an increasingly dire shortage of these individuals in the local sphere.

This lack in supply seems to be partly the result of a formal education system that is not adequately addressing the needs of local companies and providing a reliable pipeline of talent. As it stands, gaining entry to top universities remains hugely competitive (and often too expensive), and many students are opting for more traditional careers as doctors, accountants or engineers.

In the short and long term, this means that there just aren’t enough young and ambitious people stepping into the IT industry to meet the ever-growing need.

Global tech bigwigs adding pressure

Simultaneously, this demand is being driven by global companies that are opening up branches in South Africa (e.g. Amazon and Facebook) as well as the growth of South Africa as a prime destination for offshoring. Naturally, this places added stress on the imbalance between the supply and demand of IT talent.

While these are the key factors behind the skills shortage, the mounting challenge for local companies is that IT salaries continue to grow exponentially (mainly because there are so few people in this group being fought over by so many companies). This inevitably puts an extra layer of cost onto recruitment and retention.

In the long term, this worrying trend could eventually lead to such a growth in the baseline cost for businesses that they run the risk of becoming too expensive to compete in a cutthroat international IT market. Given the local market conditions, this would be devastating for South African businesses with an eye on expansion.

Platform for Practical Learning

For local supply to meet demand, we should be producing thousands of new developers each year, for example. Arguably, this has to be addressed on a large scale – through a formal training and education process that takes place within the industry itself. In our view, this cannot be left solely to education or academic organisations to address, but instead, the industry (including business leaders) should embrace the skills challenge.

In a high-pressure environment, today’s companies require new recruits to be productive from day one – and in order to make this a reality, businesses and learning institutions need to provide the necessary theoretical and practical training.

For example, software houses should create a unique platform for learning so that they can produce hundreds, or even thousands of developers every year – who leave that educational forum equipped to be immediately productive and influential.

Training as a Strategic Objective

Given the urgency – and gravity – of the skills shortage within local IT, our view is that training and skills development should be a key strategic objective for savvy businesses. In addition, the issue of recruitment and retention needs to be carefully addressed by the top-level executives within every company in order for it to be part of the cultural fabric that runs through the organisation.

Ultimately, this means that the recruitment process has to be well defined, both technically and culturally… meaning that technical skills need to be a consideration as well as the cultural and personality fit of every new recruit.

Within our organisation, we believe that a career needs to be considered both from this technical perspective and a personal perspective – and both aspects need to be fulfilled in order to achieve the best results for both the individual and the company in the long term.

Critically, this requires educating and training managers to spot the right talent within their own organisation, and to grow this internal talent to meet the recruitment needs. It’s about empowering those managers and giving them the time and space with their team members to ensure that each individual career is always moving forward.

Leadership is Paramount

As countless examples have shown us, building a dedicated and loyal workforce comes down to walking the walk: you cannot simply promote the organisation during the recruitment process and then not follow through on the statements or promises made.

For example, if you say you promote from within, what are you doing to support this process? How are you training and educating people so that they can be promoted from within?

The ability to clearly demonstrate the results of this approach (for example, 9 out of the last 10 appointments in our company have come from within the organisation) will certainly resonate with employees and ultimately build loyalty and trust.

While financial rewards are undoubtedly a factor, developing a long-term culture of trust and a loyal workforce takes far more than money. It takes personal attention, and the ability to demonstrate that your organisation is truly investing in people, and in the country at large.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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