Skills shortages constitute a global problem that will take some time to address. But businesses have a short term strategy available to them.
Skills: can’t work without them, but can’t seem to hire them either. A digital revolution is sweeping the world, making good on the promises laid out as computers rose to prominence in the 20th century. But its momentum has tipped from gradual to exponential and humans struggle to keep up. Throw in a gross under-appreciation for cultivating IT skills development and it’s a perfect storm of under-supply and over-demand.
Most companies place skills near or at the top of their risk registers. This is a global trend: surveys by the British business organisation CBI found that since 2013 to last year, the number of UK companies who aren’t getting the skills they require have grown from around 30 percent to nearly half. Almost two thirds of companies anticipate the need to upskill staff, but over half of respondents had doubts they would be able to procure many of the skills they needed.
This casts a dark cloud on developing nations, where the lack of IT skills is even more acute. In terms of general skills, only 8 percent of South African companies reported problems filling vacancies in 2014, according to Manpower South Africa’s Talent Shortage Surveys. But that metric jumped to 31 percent in 2015, suggesting that many are underreporting their difficulties. Most telling is that half the companies surveyed noted either a lack of skills from applicants or no applications at all.
Though decisive investment and policy can reverse this trend in the long run, the short term picture is not what anyone should be comfortable with. Many fear it will threaten growth, even in developed economies. The global shortage means that South Africa’s IT skills pool is very attractive to overseas markets – and lucrative for local talent. Numerous companies may delay their technology acquisitions in response, hoping for more abundant times.
But this is risky. The current consolidation- and connectivity-driven trends in IT are constructing the growth engines of today and tomorrow. Even if a company was to gear its legacy infrastructure towards modern paradigms such as mobility and big data, it would find the exercise pyrrhically expensive and results underwhelming. Digital modernisation is imperative because it takes advantage of the scale, automation and depth birthed by new breakthroughs. In a decade we may not even talk about operating systems anymore: that is how much IT is changing. It’s not a revolution any company can afford to delay.
Yet why buy if the skills are in short supply? Companies are not left in the lurch: they just need to be more selective. In line with the ethos of focusing on IT infrastructure that brings direct value to a business, companies must consider which skills should be kept in-house, then use their resources to accelerate those. The rest can be accessed through partnerships with technology vendors and solution providers. This speaks to the need for strategic partners: do not engage companies that sell product and fixes, but which instead take a serious interest in their client’s roadmap and are willing to advise, as well as act, towards its realisation.
The modern IT business is fast consolidating through acquisitions and partnerships. One reason for this is to better pool skills as well as invest wisely in upskilling, particularly certification around vendor solutions. This allows vendors to promote skills generation. EMC spends a lot of energy training its partners in outcome-based sales, so as to meet long term customer satisfaction. Another of its projects is bringing skills training and certification to South African universities. These are among several enablement programs and in the near future EMC will appoint a training partner to take its certification more broadly across the country.
Globally EMC is already investing in new training methods, including Virtual Reality. At the recent EMC World conference, held in Las Vegas, attendees could tackle server and hardware maintenance through a VR simulation. The vision is of a world where anyone can learn no matter where they – or their instructors – are.
Tele-education is certainly a pillar of how South Africa and the rest of the world will overcome skills shortages in general. But in the short term the only solution is through cooperation. Don’t delay your IT upgrade, because that will only assure extinction. Instead prioritise the skills needed, then find the technology partners who are ready to listen, willing to advise and invested in sharing for a better tomorrow.
By Jonas Bogoshi, Country Manager, EMC South Africa