The question of education and the role that can or should be played by the information technology (IT) industry in this field if human endeavour (this month’s cover story) is a multi-facetted and potentially hugely complex subject that can hardly be dealt with to any satisfactory degree in a single issue of this venerated publication.
In trying to do the subject any sort of justice at all, the first barrier to even beginning the debate is deciding what angle to consider when dealing with IT and education.
Several vastly different angles are easily identified – and each one lends itself to being covered in an enormous amount of absorbing detail when it comes to trying to analyse what is being done as well as what should or could be done.
Just two of what could potentially be several dozen so-called angles include:
- How the desperate shortage of skills within the IT industry itself is being dealt with, and
- What role IT and technology in general must play in the provision of education and training as part of a non-negotiable constitutional service-delivery obligation that the government has to all South Africans at every level of academic learning and skills development.
The well-documented and widely acknowledged skills shortage in the IT industry in South Africa, more often than not, has more to do with the general standard and quality of education in the country than it does with the capacity to deliver education and training programmes designed to address the day-to-day operational needs of vendors, distributors and resellers involved in the successful sale and support if IT systems and solutions into the market.
After all, how do you teach potential technical support employees to understand and deal with the complexities of a particular technology, operating environment and the detailed intricacies of a specific application when they are hardly literate when it comes to mathematics and a first language – despite what their Matric Certificate may attest to?
The design and delivery of a wide range of IT training programmes into the IT industry itself has been a characteristic of the sector since the advent of commercial computing more than a half-century ago.
The establishment of the classic three-tier supply chain all those many years ago – from vendor into distribution and from distribution into reseller for supply into the end use market –was often based on conditions linked to some form of sales or technical training.
In many instances, vendors continue to set as an absolute condition of appointment as an authorised distributor or end user reseller of their products and / or services, formal training and certification of nominated personnel employed by the distributor or reseller.
In meeting these certification conditions, several objectives set by the vendor are usually successfully addressed. These are:
- Incremental revenue (and potentially generous additional profit) is derived from the training investments made by the prospective distributor or reseller
- Based on trained and fully certified personnel being positioned in the channel, the vendor can safely and successfully delegate increased levels of responsibility for technical and end user support to the business partner and thereby cut costs in these areas.
The sale of end user training programmes, including the issuing of formal certifications attesting to the competency of being able to use various branded applications such as word processing, financial spreadsheets, presentation graphics and even basic databases, has not only played an important role in enhancing the skills of users and provided them with sought-after skills in knowledge-worker market, but has also made a significant commercial and profit generating contribution to the vendor concerned.
Various vendors (as well as other players in the IT sector) at various times make a lot of fuss about their commitment to education. In an overwhelming number of cases, this so-called commitment is little more than a public relations exercise linked to donations made in the name of “corporate social investment” and a facade designed to boost BEE status.
Other attempts to support a commitment to education have, in the past, had unintended consequences. For example, who can forget the scandal that erupted when a well-known local software reseller was caught re-packaging for commercial sale at enormous profit heavily discounted packaged software applications that were specifically priced and intended solely for use by students and educational institutions?
And, before you know it, the space allocated to this column and this subject has been exhausted – and we haven’t even really begun to scratch the surface of this critically important cover story.