Africa’s business cannot afford to wait five years or more for security engineers to hone high-end skills – new skills development models must be introduced now, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution sweeps the continent.

By Paul Williams, country manager: southern Africa at Fortinet

Specialised IT skills are in short supply worldwide, and African businesses in particular have long been under pressure to innovate and grow despite an acute skills shortage – particularly in the data science and IT security spaces. In an environment in which cyber risk is increasingly sophisticated and threatens to devastate businesses that are ill-equipped to mitigate risk, this is a growing concern for all organisations.

But adding to the urgency with which they need to mitigate new information security risks, Africa is confronted with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is set to change African business virtually overnight. This will sharply increase the need for high-end IT skills.

According to the World Economic Forum’s report The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa: Preparing the Region for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, as are 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria, 48% in Mauritius, 52% in Kenya and 53% in Angola.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution sweeps the continent, key drivers of change by 2020 will include big data, remote work, cloud technology, the emergence of the sharing economy, robotics, Internet of Things, next-generation manufacturing and bio technologies. These new technologies are changing the way organisations run, and the skills needed to run them.

Southern African businesses report a brain drain of their most skilled IT and information security staff, forcing them to import scarce skills at a premium themselves. This situation is not sustainable, and unless new approaches are taken to fast-track the development of high-end IT security skills, Africa’s economic growth will be constrained.

But high-level security engineers who are certified and experienced across security specifically, as well as in analytics, networks, programming and a range of other disciplines, are in short supply. It can take five to 10 years to acquire the certification and skills needed to manage high-level security demands across the entire IT infrastructure. African business cannot wait this long.

Urgent steps must be taken to fast-track high-level security skills development, through concerted collaborative efforts by enterprises, academia and the IT security industry itself. Fortinet’s own model has changed in recent years to help address the skills shortfall.

Our multi-pronged approach includes engaging with tertiary institutions to introduce more comprehensive IT security skills courses; a heavy investment in upskilling our partner networks; and introducing opportunities for practical training wherever possible. For example, our annual Tech Expert event in Gauteng this year replaced ‘death by Power Point’ with competitive, hands-on challenges to support discovery and product knowledge. We expect to see more industry players taking this approach in future.

The Fortinet Network Security Academy provides Fortinet training and certification opportunities to students around the world; and Fortinet’s Network Security Expert programme, now with universal access to the public, delivers in-depth training right up to the elite and rare Level 8 – a qualification held by only around 166 people worldwide.

Efforts such as these need to be replicated by all stakeholders, however, if Africa is to succeed in developing the large corps of high-end security skills that will be needed within only a few years.