The tech sector in South Africa has unmatched potential to help pull South Africa into a new future of economic growth and recovery writes Chad Baker, MD of Altron Systems Integration.

Our economy is our life force. The last year has hit the global economic stage like a punch in the gut, and our already fragile economy was not ready for this. Fast forward a year and a half later and the economic recovery is now at the top of the national agenda. But there is always hope. I believe the South African ICT sector is.

There is a joke going around that the Chief Technology Officer of the year goes to COVID-19. It is true that one industry’s crisis is another industry’s opportunity and the advent of this most unexpected global pandemic forced the hand of digital transformation strategies across the spectrum.

According to the communications regulator, ICASA, the telecommunications services sector in South Africa actually experienced an increase in revenue from 2019 to 2020. Last year, the sector generated a healthy R201-billion. And there is more growth to be had as the country, and the world continues to harness its newfound digital dependence.

The desperate need for businesses to address efficiencies and cost optimisation has accelerated the need to become a digital enterprise. As the entire world feels the same crunch, although, to a different degree, the tech industry in South Africa is primed to do more than its part for economic recovery… if we can only catch up and keep up with this growth.

With all this move towards digital systems integration across corporate South Africa and the interest of global tech giants like Amazon and Google in tech hubs like Cape Town (aka the Silicon Valley of Africa) – we are in an incredible position to show the world what South Africa and South Africans can do.

Yet, South Africa is struggling for skills. There is a tech skills gap that is growing bigger by the quarter. If we truly want this industry to grow from within and kick-start economic growth, we cannot let our people be forgotten.

There was a critical skills survey performed by Xpatweb which highlighted the most in-demand ‘scarce’ skills in the country. Skills scarcity has led many South African businesses to seek and recruit talent from beyond our borders.

The survey looked at a wide range of multi-national and corporate firms to assess the level of difficulty organisations face when sourcing scarce skilled individuals and the role of foreign nationals in addressing these shortages.

The demand for ICT skills remains unprecedented and continues to rise, as 14% of businesses openly admit that they find sourcing skilled professionals in the country to be a massive barrier. Especially as their need to drive operational efficiencies and transition into the digital economy grows more pressing.

In the end, the most sought-after professionals include IT application developers (11%), data analysts (10%), data scientists (9%), software developers (9%), and software engineers (8%).

This is it. This is our mission as a nation and as a single economy striving for the shared ideal of a growing economy and a thriving society. Upskilling and reskilling a new and emerging workforce remains critical to our economic recovery.

At Altron Systems Integration, as one of the country’s largest end-to-end ICT service provider, we budgeted around R10-million for the 2020/2021 period to bring in and upskill young interns from disadvantaged backgrounds with the aim of absorbing them into our business as formal employees. Every year this number grows, and we hope that it will do so every year after that. We need to arm our youth with the skills that will see them, and our economy, flourish. But we can’t stop there.

If we want to maximise our economic growth, we to keep our operations as local as possible. If we invest in individuals and allow them to bridge this digital skills chasm that is opening up before us before it becomes insurmountable.

Even with our existing talent pool, we also need to look to corporate South Africa to adopt a more ‘local is lekker’ mindset. It is not always the big consulting firms of the world that deserve your business. It can often be more cost-effective to side with local businesses that have just as much talent and twice as much knowledge of your local environment.

If a local consultancy and systems integration company can increase their business by 10%, then they can hire more people, invest in more internships and continue to grow the local economy whilst increasing the local talent pool. Multiply this by years and the ramifications will be huge. Exponential growth comes from within.