Thought Leadership Piece

Beyond Insurance SA Needs Vital Tech Skills Boost

Johannesburg - If I were given a Rand every time I heard the phrase "South African jobs crisis" I would be an extremely wealthy man. And I would use that money to refocus national efforts on a rapid deep-rooted technology skills-development programme.

Because the faster we train people for the global tech-led economy the quicker we lift ourselves out of the growth mire in which we are currently rooted and entangled. I am not saying we do not have an unemployment crisis. Far from it. Right now, the expanded unemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers, stands at 42.3 percent.

Such a trajectory, if it continues, would make our future untenable and intensifies the potential for more anger and civil unrest such as we have witnessed in recent weeks. While the reasons for the attempted insurrection are myriad and complex, angry young South Africans with little in the way of marketable future-fit skills were certainly part of the battalions of the resentful.

If these scores of fresh young minds had rather been in front of keyboards and behind screens, much of the sting might have been taken out of the equation of inequality that contributed to the violence.

I am hugely encouraged by President Ramaphosa’s recent assertion that for us to rebuild our pandemic-battered economy we must place it on a fundamentally different growth trajectory. He went on to say, “One of the concrete ways we can do this is by harnessing the job-creating potential of the digital economy, whose growth has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

As someone who leads a digital-first company that is looking to deliver on the promise of technology and human ingenuity, the challenge for all of us to make sure these powerful sentiments are translated into swift action. So, I would challenge all CEOs to ask what serious weighting they are giving tech- upliftment; how they are really reskilling their young workforce to be tech ready; and if a prevailing tech-led philosophy is one that is prevalent in all aspects of their business.

To that end, along with a coterie of passionate and like-minded executives I have been working behind the scenes on a new project that tackles skills growth in various tech disciplines – including the cloud engineering space – and how demand can be rapidly built in South Africa.

The upshot is an initiative called the Digital Work Accelerator which we are confident will make real progress on the country’s technological front.

Training in this respect though also needs to be expertly woven into the strategic fabric of all organisations and recognised as a clear and present risk to sustainability if it is not.

I am challenged all too often to articulate where exactly the skills deficiency is. We have, but way of a good example a paucity of talent when it comes to cloud computing proficiency. Anecdotally I am informed that close on fifty percent of local companies believe that demand for cloud computing skills is critical and challenging to fulfil.

That is one obvious entry point into solving this hydra-like problem. While urgent skills development is the supply side of the tech-debate, we also need to re-examine our national outsourcing strategy on the demand side of the equation. We have a solid global reputation when it comes to this discipline and that tells me we have the necessary repository of onshore skills that major markets desire. But we find ourselves in the same tough competitive ring as India and the Philippines all vying for a share of a US$300-billion industry.

How do we get our South African companies to see more of this potential? This could include services like sales, digital marketing, customer management, technical support as well as the more traditional areas of shared services – these are all areas that are being transformed in how they are delivered with the benefits of technology advances in automation, data-driven insights and analytics to create future ready operations.

My call to government would be to accelerate plans on how to incentivise South Africa’s competitiveness as an outsourcing destination and to the private sector to leverage this foundation to drive corporate growth that is sustainable by providing growth in jobs. I am reminded of a quote from Apple’s Steve Jobs who famously said, “It’s not a faith in technology but a faith in people.” Get the people stuff right (skills) and technology becomes the greatest enabler of growth. - By Vukani Mngxati, CEO for Accenture in Africa