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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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CES: So long, and thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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