Mind the (IT talent) gap

Innovation and creativity can make a meaningful dent in SA’s skills shortage and unemployment rate, writes Diane van Zyl, Lead: Smart Skills.

South Africa finds itself in the precarious position of facing a crippling skills shortage – especially in the IT landscape – while at the same time navigating an unsustainable unemployment rate. To compound matters, the rand is under severe pressure, interest rates are at their highest since the global financial crisis and, while there’s been some respite recently, load shedding continues to add to the country’s difficult economic conditions. 

This does not make for pleasant reading, but it is important for us to take a deep breath and realise that each of us, in our areas of influence, has the ability to make a meaningful difference. As corporate citizens and leaders, it is in our hands to develop innovative solutions that start taking steps up the seemingly endless ladder. At scale, successful interventions can have a marked impact.

At Altron Karabina, partnering with businesses on their digital transformation journeys to deliver innovation that matters, we have seen first-hand how businesses are under pressure on the skills front. Being customer and value obsessed means that we understood from the outset that we would need to deliver the best skills with instant value in the most affordable manner.

Diane van Zyl, Lead: Smart Skills

Why? We understand that with the formal unemployment rate being at 32.9% in the first quarter of 2023, citizens are struggling. To compound this, the country is losing skills at an eye-watering rate. It doesn’t matter where you look to find estimates of the number of people emigrating every year, it will always almost inevitably be in excess of 20,000 people. In a skills-scarce environment, this is not sustainable. 

Businesses are struggling and many are restructuring, cutting jobs and adjusting roles. However, they still have a need for integral systems to be updated and maintained, new reports to be created, data to be manipulated, cyber security to be front and centre, they need to be compliant and much, much more. The problem is – they need skills to be able to do this. 

And so, true to our business mantra of making a difference in society, we developed Smart Skills Sourcing to plug the gap – when businesses lose a scarce skill, they can reach out to the SSS team and we send someone to join their team to ensure it is business as usual. The customer does not have to go through the time-intensive and expensive exercise of advertising the role, going through a rigid interview process which includes technical testing, initial interviews and panel interviews, security checks and background checks and then have to draw up contracts, endure a week of negotiation and then eventually onboard them, only to find out a month or two later the person is not performing or not fitting in with the business culture. 

“The country is losing skills at an eye-watering rate – it will always almost inevitably be in excess of 20,000 people. In a skills-scarce environment, this is not sustainable.”

The key is to provide flexibility for businesses where there is no cost or commitment of a permanent hire, and if a project ends three months earlier than anticipated, they can give a month’s notice and the cost is no longer on their books. During the project, it needs to be set up that there are cost reduction and HR benefits for the businesses that only take on the hourly rate of the consultant.

A concept such as this allows a business to scale its workforce based on project demands. This is the polar opposite of a situation where a business is tied down with a huge overhead or unproductive employees. On the other hand, if over time the business wishes to take on the resource on a permanent basis, all the groundwork and culture-fit tests have been done. The programme simply must be open-minded to this possibility.

This is how the concept benefits the business. But, as mentioned, we have a very high unemployment rate, so how does this concept benefit the worker? Contractors, more so than any other type of worker, get the opportunity of being placed in a wide range of business types and industries, building up valuable experience and skill sets, and a powerful CV.

If one looks at this with a long-term lens, this could be very powerful for the country. Consider that many, many millions are spent on outsourcing crucial IT roles to contractors in other countries. By building the Smart Skills Sourcing concept at scale, we can directly divert money that would have ended up in India or Poland to South Africans, active in the South African economy. What if this takes off on a previously unimaginable scale? South Africa could become highly competitive in the global outsourcing market – this would be one area where our exchange rate counts in our favour.

“Contractors, more so than any other type of worker, get the opportunity of being placed in a wide range of business types and industries, building up valuable experience and skill sets, and a powerful CV.”

Tweaking the forward-looking lens even more, we land on a huge opportunity to pair inexperienced, but talented, young people with a skilled resource in client businesses, at no cost, or negligible at worst. What would this do? It would upskill young people who, after a few months of being supervised by the senior, start to make a positive impact in the business and become employable themselves with their new experience and skill set.

Before anyone thinks any of this is merely the wish list of a glass-half-full mindset, it isn’t. It is truly an innovative way of delivering value and the validation we receive at Altron Karabina from businesses who feel an immediate impact and value from the skills placed in their businesses energises us. Positivity and innovation perpetuate goodwill and a sense of meaning. We can make a difference, and every leader at every business has the power to start small and dream big. We’ve done it with Altron Karabina’s Smart Skills Sourcing and the rewards speak for themselves.