South Africans seeking to meet growing corporate demand for high-end and specialist IT skills could increase their employability by combining world class online short courses with practical experience, instead of committing to years at a college or university.

This is according to international digital training experts Digital Skills Academy, who have rolled out 25 new online short courses designed to address current industry skills gaps.

Digital Skills Academy CEO Paul Dunne says that the Ireland-based academy, which has had a presence in South Africa for the past two years, has adapted its curriculum in line with changing trends in the industry. The Academy combines the best of highly skilled expert instructors with work-based experience and peer learning with participants from across the globe, to ensure its courseware delivers highly relevant and applicable learning.

“We are seeing more demand from corporates for employees with broad skills, including softer, business skills, as well as specialist digital skills that are aligned with global best practice. This combination of digital skills and varied workplace experience makes candidates highly employable. We believe a good way to achieve both is through e-learning,” says Dunne.

For many hoping to work in the digital space, short courses and practical training are often more valuable and on trend with the latest tools and international training than traditional university degrees, says Dunne. “For example, rather than opting for a traditional 4 — 6 year full time education, they could invest in internationally acclaimed short courses, while working or seeking work opportunities simultaneously.”

For those who have completed an ICT-related degree, short courses offer an opportunity to stay up to date with the latest software and training, allowing them to function optimally and valuably in a corporate environment.

This approach is being taken by a number of large enterprises in South Africa, notably large organisations that have formalised their relationship with Digital Skills Academy, saying the move supports their internal digital transformation strategies.

Dunne believes specialised e-learning also meets the need of corporates to upskill their employees in an era of digitisation. “In addition to tertiary education institutions, training providers have also come under scrutiny in the past few years, particularly within the corporate sector.

“In 2012, Professor Michael Beer from Harvard Business School, Magnus Finnström, director at TruePoint Consulting Firm, and Derek Schrader, partner and director at TruePoint, published a study that described the $162-billion spent on corporate training companies each year as ‘the great training robbery’.

“Their thesis questioned the amount of corporate money wasted by companies failing to perform any kind of skills audit, prior to buying corporate training sessions. According to Prof Beer ‘other studies also suggest that as little as 10% of corporate training is actually effective’.

“Corporates and individuals in the sector should research courses that are current and focused on tech skills, methods, and skills needed now, to ensure that skills gaps can be closed quickly and individuals and employees can be productive and upskilled in a short space of time,” Dunne advises.

“Like our BSc Degree programmes, our Online Short Courses combine academic rigor and industry expertise via an agile, learning-by-doing approach,” says Barry McAdam, director of programmes at Digital Skills Academy. “The work-based project experience, intensive group-work assignment, peer learning, and coaching and mentoring sessions that we provide are critical components of our new portfolio. These underpin the industry-relevant and transformational learning experience we deliver.”