[Column] Alison Palmer: Fighting South Africa's tech skills gap with solutions that deliver value
The global IT skills shortage is real and not going away. According to a May 2022 McKinsey report, an overwhelming majority of companies worldwide (87%) are aware that they either already have a skills gap or will have one within a few years.
Closer to home, horrifying unemployment figures and international research that shows skills shortages are among the most significant business risks facing South African organisations today. It is clear more needs to be done to create an enabling environment for young people to find work.
According to the South African 2021 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey: "The COVID-19 pandemic has given an enormous boost to digital transformation in many sectors. Who would have imagined 18 months ago that millions of South Africans would be working online, buying their groceries, visiting doctors and appearing in court via digital platforms? Our society – or at least that part of it that has decent connectivity – has gone digital and huge opportunities have arisen for companies and professionals that make this all possible."
Tackling systemic issues
Even though it may be tempting to blame the education environment, the problem is much more systemic than that. For instance, tertiary institutions spend a lot of their time educating students on the theoretical knowledge required to earn a valuable degree. And while this is important, it is the practical element that invariably falls by the wayside.
Software engineering is an excellent example of this: Graduates may know how to code but may also lack the understanding of what this means in the real world. Very few have insight into what it takes to run a project or how the theoretical methodologies work under specific business conditions. Of course, nobody expects someone fresh from university to have much experience, but the transition from full-time study to working as a software engineer is significant.
Graduate programmes for the real world
Graduate programmes fulfil a critical part in providing graduates with opportunities to get started on the journey of gaining the practical knowledge and experience necessary to carve out career paths.
However, some programmes run the risk of merely becoming 'intern mills' that churn out resources that are simply assigned to corporate clients.
Dariel is at the forefront of providing great working opportunities where qualified professionals can take their careers to new heights. It also makes significant contributions in other areas that assist in addressing skills shortages.
The Dariel Engineer Acceleration Programme (DEAP) has been designed to provide a supportive, learning environment for junior software engineering graduates. Since its inception in 2014, the annual programme has already given rise to more than 80 talented and passionate engineers.
Through DEAP, Dariel has enhanced the traditional graduate programme as we know it. Recruitment to join DEAP entails a rigorous niche selection process from thousands of applicants across the top tertiary institutions in the country. Of those, offers are extended to the top candidates.
These individuals are immersed in a dynamic environment that provides extensive exposure on a client project, practical training and one-on-one mentoring while a team of advanced software engineers support their learning. Such is the intensity of DEAP, that graduates reach an intermediate software engineering level within 18 months.
The secret sauce behind this success is focusing on giving graduates the practical knowledge essential to be relevant in a digitally-driven job environment. It takes the theoretical foundation provided by tertiary institutions and enhances it with an intensity designed to encourage and promote learning and skills acquisition.
Narrow the gap, widen opportunities
Closing the skills gap requires an array of approaches, from formal and informal mentoring and exposure to real live projects, to training and certification.
The road to managing skills development, job creation, and bridging the gap from university to the world of work is fraught with obstacles. Fresh prospects, like Dariel's DEAP programme, afford talented software engineers an opportunity to overcome these challenges with broadening scope and exposure in a safe environment, to operate within a digitised, automated world.