ICT skills shortage troubles Western Cape SMEs


Recent reports have indicated that the severe national ICT skills shortage will significantly limit the growth of this critical sector. While highly debated, authorities place the shortage figures at 70,000.

This number is not disaggregated by province, however a recent survey conducted by the ICT incubator, Bandwidth Barn, reveals that the Western Cape mirrors this trend.

According to Bandwidth Barn GM, Chris Vermeulen, the skills shortage is a substantial threat for the Western Cape particularly. "The region would feel the effects of the shortage profoundly due to the size of the population, economy and local market,' he says.

"The Western Cape ICT sector is relatively small, and includes predominantly small and medium enterprises.'

SMEs?often touted as the engine of a developing economy?have less time, money and access to costly training programmes than larger firms with greater resources. Attraction and retention of experienced and well-rounded ICT professionals is therefore more difficult, putting significant pressure on the companies.

The Bandwidth Barn?s survey revealed two distinct areas where skills are lacking: technical skills, and basic business administration skills.

To address the need, the Barn and the Cape IT Initiative (CITI) have launched a training programme focusing on these two core areas. The programme will train 100 people, and is being funded by the Provincial Government of the Western Cape?s Economic Development Department.

Bandwidth Barn and CITI identified technical support training (A+ certification) as the fastest route to make an immediate impact.

"There is a high level of demand in the industry, even within the current economic climate,' says Vermeulen. "We view this training as the first phase of a full career development programme which would see candidates ultimately move to fully qualified Microsoft-certified engineers.'

This initial programme will train ten candidates?70% previously disadvantaged. They are required to be unemployed individuals who have completed Grade 12 with the relevant subjects and a high pass rate.

A larger number of participants?90 in total?are being recruited for the business skills training programme.

According to Vermeulen, many people in the ICT industry in the Western Cape are technically trained but lack "soft skills' such as business acumen, time management and project management.

The Barn?s recent survey revealed that 45% of job vacancies listed project management as a requirement, mirroring the findings of the JCSE/iTWeb ICT Skills Survey conducted in 2008. The programme will therefore focus on this area, as well as incorporate training on time management and key skills for effective managers.

These will be short, high impact courses, which will be Seta-approved at NQF levels 4 and 5 and delivered by an accredited training provider. All participants are required to be individuals with an IT background?over 70% PDI?who have some level of tertiary education or attendance at accredited courses.

"These programmes form part of our approach to support ICT SMEs and entrepreneurs to succeed in the Western Cape,' says Vermeulen.

"We firmly believe that a thriving SME sector is critical to the health of the region?s economy, and hope that this programme plays a part in unlocking the significant talent and opportunity in the ICT sector.'