A little less conversation…

To address the skills challenge we need more action, please.

The local skills shortage is well documented, in fact, you can get a visual idea of the state of play from the page opposite. With declining maths and scienceminded students matriculating and less than five percent of high schools offering IT as a subject, it would appear we face a bleak future.

As a country, we find ourselves in a situation where we have high youth unemployment, and yet we’re crying out for skills to help us meet the ICT challenges we face today and into the future. To make some inroads into redressing the situation, ITWeb and Brainstorm magazine have launched a skills initiative called Isibani aimed at uniting the industry for the common good.

The inaugural meeting of Isibani’s advisory board convened in February 2015. The board consists of leading ICT companies, analysts and other industry players passionate about addressing the skills shortage.

The plan is to identify, focus on and foster the most successful local skills initiatives, bringing the industry together to pool knowledge and resources to boost skills in South Africa. It will target young learners from disadvantaged backgrounds and encourage companies to step up and provide facilities, training, employment opportunities, time or funding.

Isibani will also co-ordinate the various activities, measuring the success of programmes to ensure resources are effectively used, and providing the platform for everyone involved to communicate and share ideas.

ITWeb’s CEO Jovan Regasek says: “Skills are key to solving some of the most burning problems we see as a country: unemployment, poverty and inequality.”

He notes too few people put their money where their mouths are regarding the skills shortage, adding: “To quote Elvis, what is needed is a little less conversation. When it comes to skills, the industry is talking too much, but doing too little. We are embarking on an exciting journey. We get to pledge our skills and resources to the greater good, and for the good of the economy as a whole. ITWeb is perfectly positioned to be a catalyst of this skills development initiative.”

Unified approach

Of course initiatives aimed at tackling ICT skills shortage are not new; individual companies have been running them for some time, so what makes this one different? Brainstorm’s editor and Isibani project lead Jane Steinacker says many companies have been doing amazing things to address the skills shortage for some time, but notes there’s a need to unify the various efforts. “The philosophy behind Isibani is to facilitate communication and knowledge-sharing. We need to start leveraging off each other’s best practices,” she says.

“We can learn from existing programmes and experiences. We need to organise resources, and these go beyond hard cash, and include time and knowledge. We need to decide how best we can make this work.”

The first step, she explains, is identifying the skills that are needed, how they can be gained, and how to leverage off existing programmes. “We need to identify which existing programmes support our goals, find out what they need and use sourcing mechanisms to allow interested parties to pledge their support.”

The initiative will work via a website and mobile app, currently being developed by ITWeb. “Those who wish to participate will soon be able to go to the Isibani site or app, and choose a project they wish to support. They can see what they need and pledge their support. Once this step is done, they will be issued with a digital ‘badge’, or online recognition.”

Ultimately, the motivation for participation goes beyond winning badges. Steinacker reasons that it’s a sound business investment. “It’s about sustainability for our industry. The initiative is creating opportunities for IT companies to identify talent and have access to the smartest and brightest minds, to find talent while it is still young, nurture it and then retain it to help the business maintain its competitive advantage. The socio-economic benefits will filter down, and have a positive impact on the industry and on the bottom line of those companies involved.”

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