The headlines about high profile data breaches and weaknesses of online systems are starting to bear fruit.

IT managers in South Africa say that their number one priority right now is information security, according to the 2016 JCSE Skills Survey, which has been released today and is available to read at this link.

The bad news is that security know-how also tops the list of scarcest skills, with employers anticipating a severe shortage in 2017.

Security is closely followed by big data design and analytics and infrastructure design as the key areas of concern, says JCSE’s Adrian Schofield. He said that the latest figures from government training agency MICT-SETA suggests that there are around 12 000 “scarce skill” IT roles currently unfilled in South African business. Schofield did also point out, however, that the SETA’s data hadn’t been updated for two years.

As a whole, Schofield says, the vast majority of businesses involved in IT are SMMEs. Forty-six percent of respondents to the survey employ fewer than 50 people, and only 22% employ more than 1 000.

In a bit of bad news for recruitment agencies, for the first time the survey showed internet advertising as being the favoured method of recruitment over third party specialists.

Filling the gap

In order to fill skills gaps, employers are increasingly looking overseas. More than one in four of the respondents had recruited internationally in the last year compared to less than a fifth in 2015. South African projects which had failed to deliver on their promise include education, the digital migration and the long overdue implementation of the national broadband policy, SA Connect.

JCSE's Adrian Schofield this morning.
JCSE’s Adrian Schofield this morning.

While there are laudable programmes like Gauteng Department of Education’s push to put tablets in schools and JCSE’s own Tshimologong Precinct development, Schofield says that “all too often they operate in silos.” The industry needs to learn to co-ordinate better, he says.

However, Schofield did say that part of the perceived skills gap may be as a result of employers asking too much. Typically, he said, IT practitioners in South Africa are being required to do five separate tasks on the technical side, and three on the business side of things. Employers are, essentially, unreasonable in their expectations.

This creates multiples problems. On the one hand, it makes employees expensive as multi-skilled people are able to charge more for their time. It also makes them harder to replace.

By focussing on multi-skilled, expensive staff employers are also reducing the number of overall opportunities available. It might be better to have three separate, lower cost employees who are more focussed on their core roles he says. It also limits the management pool, as finding experienced people becomes trickier.

The results of the Skills Survey seem to contradict those of another piece of research published by VMWare and WorldWideWorx a couple of weeks ago, which suggested that many CEOs in South Africa weren’t treating online security as a priority. Schofield says that the disconnect is likely because IT managers “are painfully aware of the risks, but that message isn’t getting through to boardrooms.”

IT= white & male?

One key area of concern is the ongoing lack of diversity among IT practitioners, who Schofield describes as white, male, 35 and has a diploma or degree. They’ve also been with the same employer for just three years.

Ulandi Exner speaking at the Skills Survey 2016 launch.
Ulandi Exner speaking at the Skills Survey 2016 launch.

Ulandi Exner is president of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa, which helped to compile the Skills Survey. Exner says that while she’s rarely experienced explicit sexist abuse during her career in IT, the industry is male dominated and needs to change.

“There’s always been an atmosphere of condescension,” Exner says, recalling meetings in which it would be assumed she would play the role of secretary.

“My peers and colleagues have always earned more than me, and I’ve always had to work harder and study more,” Exner says, “It’s lonely being a woman in IT.”

Exner says that increasing gender and racial diversity in the industry require employers to be proactive and more understanding around issues such as maternity leave, and encourages recruiters to try blind reading CVs – removing names and personal information – to test their own unconscious biases. Real change has to happen in schools, too.

“All schools should offer computer related subjects and it should be compulsory,” Ulner says, “All girls should be encouraged to engage and we should do away with media stereotypes. You are not a nerd if you want to go into IT. Not all girls want to in the beauty industry. All students must understand the IT career paths they can follow, and that it’s not just programming.”

[Main image – Padlocks, CC BY Damian Siwiaszczyk]
Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar, Wired.co.uk, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.