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Why SA needs IT skills

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Locally, there are around 40,000 and 70,000 open job positions for candidates with networking skills. Every year the need grows, but every year there are only 8,300 IT graduates. ALFIE HAMID, regional lead for the Cisco Networking Academy says this shortage presents a massive development problem for South Africa.

Any country that wants to be able to feed and safeguard the health of its citizens, and to have a vibrant, globally competitive economy must keep abreast of the latest technological advances technology that requires South Africa to have the best-skilled IT workforce, to help its private and public organisations make critical business decisions.

Even in the developed world, these skills are hard to come by as educators struggle to get youngsters interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM skills), and South Africa is no different.

If you consider the areas of technology growth the arrival of 4G, the proliferation of mobile devices, the trend towards BYOD and the emergence of the Internet of Things, it’s obvious that we need more skills skills that aren’t emerging from our tertiary education institutions.

The only way to address this shortage is to follow what’s happening in many other parts of the world to take the STEM coursework to school level. Schooling now should be aimed at employability. Schools, parents and government should be asking what work skills we can give our children to give them the best career options.

By taking programmes to add these kinds of teachings at school level, we could provide skills to an IT sector that is struggling to find the right people, to get the statistics on their BEE scorecards right, to retain talent that is frequently poached by other organisations because the competition is tough and the skills are in short supply.

Less than 5% of South African schools currently offer IT as a subject. Because of this, very few choose IT as a subject in further education. Surprisingly though, many of the schools who do offer IT as a subject are in previously disadvantaged communities, and it would not be difficult to boost this proportion to 20%, if government were to create an enabling environment.

Aside from providing the fundamental and advanced skills in networking, Cisco’s IT training programmes address the soft skills that graduates can use in the real world of business. For instance, the Cisco Networking Academy provides skills in how to speak to customers, so that graduates are able to work as call centre agents. Another programme, Passport 21 provides entrepreneurs with the training to start up an IT business to become a reseller of hardware and software.

Cisco’s Academies are already providing these much-needed IT skills at universities, colleges and further education and training centres around the country. It would be very easy to start providing these IT and networking courses at schools. Children who matriculate with those skills can go on to become IT technicians earning R8 000 to R10 000 a month. A Cisco Certified Network Administrator can walk into a job at R15 000 to R20 000 a month.

Many previously disadvantaged people live with their extended families, so those who find employment will positively influence the lives of six to eight additional people. This means that if we can train 15,000 to 20,000 people, the lives of 160,000 people can be improved and this is only the beginning. If you have 100,000 people, each earning R10 000 per month, this injects R1 million into the national coffers each month, which would have a positive impact on the country’s society and economy.

The jobs are out there, the capability is out there what is needed to bridge the gap is skills development. Then, those who come away with IT skills and IT careers can go on to make a positive difference in their communities and society as a whole, and play a part in ensuring South Africa’s competitiveness on a global scale.

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