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By 27 February 2020 | Categories: feature articles

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With more than 90 percent of South African businesses engaged in some form of digital transformation, the country is experiencing a need for deeper and more complex digital skills. This is according to the Future of Work Skills, a new report commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by the IDC.

For businesses in South Africa, digital transformation is no longer simply a buzz word. In fact, the report shows 71 percent of organisations across the country have already embarked on a company-wide digital transformation strategy.

But as organisations look to deploy a wider range of technologies to support their digital transformation agendas, so their skills requirements will increase. As it stands, 44 percent of South African companies are finding it difficult to recruit staff with digital skills and these challenges are expected to grow over time.

“The IDC Survey shows that digital transformation is changing the landscape for employers and job-seekers alike, with leaders anticipating most of their future job requirements will require at least a basic level of digital skills. The message is clear: at all levels, organisations need to build capacity in terms of digital skills,” commented Manish Ranjan, Programme Manager for Software & Cloud, IDC Middle East and Africa. 

The rising demand for cloud specialists

Currently the biggest skills gap lies in security-related and data protection skills – a reflection of the heightened awareness among businesses about the increasing threat of cybercrime. While 53 percent of companies say they already lack this necessary skill set, 59 percent expect to need more security specialists in just two years’ time.

Following closely behind is the demand for cloud computing skills as indicated by 49 percent of companies. This is not surprising given the race for South African organisations to deploy cloud technology. In fact, nine out of ten companies in South Africa increased spending on cloud computing last year, according to the Cloud Africa 2018 report. This demand for cloud skills is expected to grow significantly over the next two years, with 68 percent of companies saying they are likely to need more cloud specialists in future.

Among the other top skillsets businesses will need to help drive their digital transformation agendas are mobile technology specialists, good networkers and data analysts.

Deep technology skills will become particularly sought after over the next two years. The greatest jump in skills requirements will come from robotic process automation, which businesses recognise as a key enabler for digital transformation because it allows for greater operational efficiencies. While currently in demand by 26 percent of companies, this will rise to 47 percent.

“Working together to address the country’s skills challenges is imperative. We believe we all have a duty – citizens, governments and businesses – to play our parts in the journey ahead. Microsoft is committed to helping every person and organisation in South Africa prepare for the digital revolution. We know that the journey is a long one, but we believe that through a combination of partnerships, trainings, real-world experiences and online classrooms, we can build a knowledge-based economy in the country that leaves no person behind,” stressed Asif Valley, National Technology Officer at Microsoft.

Asif Valley

Lack of experience delaying the adoption of new technologies

Experience is the biggest hurdle companies face when it comes to accessing the right skills. This has a particularly significant impact on their ability to adopt new technologies. Though 40 percent of companies say they are using AI and machine learning, at least 47 percent find acquiring those skills a challenge. The same can be said of robotic process automation, currently deployed by 42 percent of businesses, yet difficult to acquire for 44 percent.

To access the level of digital expertise needed, companies are finding a good balance between sourcing external talent and growing skills internally. Already 55 percent of South African companies are actively upskilling their employees.

This likely stems from the fact that businesses believe there is much to be gained from improving their digital skills base, particularly when it comes to accelerating their digital transformation journeys. While 86 percent of organisations believe they would benefit through improved customer experience, 85 percent believe their operational processes would be more effective.

Businesses, however, don’t believe they should be the only ones addressing the current skills gap. A significant 76 percent of companies think academia and the education system as a whole should work with them to overcome their difficulties in recruiting digitally skilled employees. A further 73 percent see education programmes, supported by funding from international organisations and associations, as key to overcoming digital skills challenges.

To help address the skills shortage, Microsoft has set up a training ecosystem designed to benefit, not only students and young professionals, but also older employees specialising in skills that may soon be obsolete.

In South Africa this takes the form of numerous investments including:

  • Cloud Society: a one-stop learning platform aimed at honing employees’ cloud skills by offering a range of free courses. In South Africa, almost 27,000 people have registered on Cloud Society and enrolled in over 73,000 courses.
  • AppFactory: we have over the last few years been piloting an internship programme that provides on-the-job skills training for software engineers and which has to date, resulted in 100 percent employment.

With reference to education and skills development for youth enablement programmes, initiatives include:

  • Mahala.MS: offers free Office Apps, including Microsoft Word, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and Powerpoint as well as 1TB of storage on OneDrive, to all South African school learners.
  • Thinti’Million: an online mass learning system, launched in partnership with the Gauteng Provincial Government, to provide digital skills training for youth.
  • Microsoft in Education: We have also trained approximately 100,000 teachers (reaching approximately 5 million learners) with digital literacy skills, but more importantly how to leverage this knowledge to teach critical skills for the modern workplace, including creativity, collaboration and coding.

About the Future of Work Skills report

The Future of Work Skills report is based on extensive interviews with 70 IT decision makers in South Africa. 68 percent of respondents were from companies with 250 employees or more and 32 percent of respondents from companies with between 100 and 249 employees. A wide range of different verticals were surveyed, including Resource industries, Oil & Gas, Energy, Utilities; Manufacturing; Trade (wholesale and retail); Transportation/Storage/Logistics; Hospitality, accommodation, catering; Banking, insurance, other financial services; Professional/Business services; Media and communications; Education; Healthcare; Government and Agriculture.

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