Margaret Pekelaar, Head of People in DevOps PracticeBusinesses are competing for a limited pool of IT skills, and the pressure is intensifying as the demand for emerging technologies grows. Artificial intelligence and automation are rapidly changing the business landscape, and cyber security and cloud migration are more urgent than ever. In South Africa, IT professionals are able to secure work globally, either through emigration or remote work opportunities, which makes it even harder to secure local talent.Nearly 10 000 positions in the ICT sector are listed as hard to fill, according to the 2021 ICT Skills Survey, even though South Africa’s unemployment figures are at record levels. The shortage of talent can act as a brake on economic progress as companies struggle to grow and stay competitive without the right people on board.South Africa needs to grow its own ICT skills so that local companies can expand their operations, respond to local conditions, and meet changing customer expectations. At Altron Systems Integration, we run several intern and graduate programmes throughout our business areas during the year. These programs target most higher education institutions in South Africa and are intended to capture applications from a wide range of students and potential employees.Given the shortage of talent, employers are increasingly willing to consider talent with non-traditional backgrounds for IT-related jobs because they recognise that the job market is changing and skills can transfer from one discipline to another. In South Africa, workers are taking the lead and proactively choosing to equip themselves with ICT skills because they see the opportunities that it leads to.With technical tools changing frequently and being highly developed, in-depth technical specialisation is not always as valuable as it was previously. However, mid-career professionals joining the sector need an ability to learn and grasp technical concepts quickly, strong analytical ability, the ability to deal with continuous change, and strong communication skills.Opportunities to pivotIn particular, finance and engineering professionals are well-placed to make a move into ICT. People with financial services experience, such as accountants or auditors, who work extensively with ICT systems develop a good understanding of these systems and bring valuable business know-how and experience to compliment ICT teams. Also, knowledge diversity in teams can be extremely valuable.Engineers, particularly electronic and industrial engineers who are exposed to ICT systems at university, move from more traditional engineering careers into fully ICT careers. Also, professionals who have developed strong analytical skills – such as financial analysts and lawyers – are well-suited to ICT analyst roles.For these professionals, who have already received exposure to and understanding of ICT systems, they are able to leverage their existing experience and upskill with online courses covering basic ICT concepts.Even if the intention is not to move to being a software coder, learning a coding language such as Python is recommended as this gives people hands-on experience of basic IT technology and how it hangs together. Recognised certification courses in the field of interest are a very good idea.In-demand skillsThe most sought-after skills include: • Anything cloud. This includes cloud engineers who are responsible for managing, planning, architecting, and monitoring cloud workloads. It also includes cloud developers, software engineers with a specialisation in cloud computing, and cloud migration engineers with a strong understanding of cloud and infrastructure components.• Data engineers. This job looks after an organisation’s data and requires technical skills to collect, manage and convert raw data into usable formats for analytical or operational purposes.• DevOps engineers who are responsible for implementing processes and tools to balance needs throughout the software development life cycle from coding to deployment.• Java developers. Java is a software language used by many larger organisations both in South Africa and abroad. These are software engineers with skills to develop IT applications with either a focus on frontend applications or backend services.
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