Much has been made of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and its purported impact on almost every aspect of society. In the past 18 months and in 2019 in particular, South Africa’s government has stressed the importance of our country being ready for the immense changes that 4IR will bring forth.

Currently though, those waves of change are yet to be felt when it comes to the development of ICT skills.

This according to the aptly named ICT Skills Survey, now in its 10th year, conducted by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).

The right terminology?

The findings of this survey were revealed earlier this week, with Professor Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE at Wits University noting that, “South Africans are being told that everything is changing and we need all new skills in the 4IR, but my belief is that the phrase 4IR is being used as a catch-all for a number of things – many of them encompassing the kind of evolutionary digital transformation we have seen over many decades.”

“However, the 2019 ICT Skills Survey does indicate that the hype around 4IR is driving people to start looking at upskilling,” he is careful to point out.

As such it is that element in particular that is important, with the survey finding that almost all enterprises and all practitioners felt a need for more upskilling to meet the needs of the new era of digitalisation.

While there is no change in skills development currently happening, this will alter drastically in coming years, according to Dwolatzky.

“Revolutionary change is that which drives a quantum leap, bringing a whole new digital model. This is something we are not really seeing in South Africa as yet, but there are signs that in years to come, digital disruptors could suddenly spark revolutionary change in traditional sectors, which will impact on skills and jobs,” he explains.

On the horizon

Interestingly the survey uncovered a sharp decline in the number of organisations stating that they are experiencing ICT skills shortages that would prove detrimental to the business’ operations, which is in stark contrast to the findings of 10 years ago.

“Our overall sense of what is happening in the ICT skills field from the employer perspective is that there is a slowing in the demand for skills but that the ongoing pressure from the introduction of new and innovative technologies continues to ensure that the skills gap is not closing,” says Adrian Schofield, production consultant at IITPSA.

Another contributing factor among ICT practitioners locally is the propensity to multitask, which too has seen a decline in the number of skills shortages of late.

“This is a unique property of South African ICT practitioners, which makes us very different from our counterparts in Europe and the U.S. and may partly have come about as a result of skills shortages,” Schofield adds.

Start preparing

As for the skills that are in demand both now and over the coming year, the survey highlighted the following seven:

  • Information security/Cybersecurity
  • DevOps
  • Big data design/analytics
  • Artificial Intelligence/machine learning
  • Blockchain
  • Test automation/performance testing and,
  • Internet of Things.

The Survey ends by noting that many of the newer 4IR-related competencies and ICT skills are yet to find their footing in South Africa, with a lack of development in these areas yet to create a high demand.

“Internationally and in South Africa, disruption is set to change things, but nobody is quite sure how. For those hoping to future-proof their skills, my advice is to acquire good foundational knowledge, and learn to become good problem solvers, good communicators and good self-learners to stay abreast of any change that comes,” concludes Dwolatzky.

[Image – Photo by Jacques Nel on Unsplash]