The Joburg Centre for Software Engineering’s (JCSE) seventh annual ICT skills survey showed that South Africa continues to lag behind other African countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt, in information communication technology (ICT) skills training and an emphasis on the contribution that technology plays in contributing to economic growth. In the current environment of increasing cybercrime attacks globally, this makes the need to upskill our citizens even more crucial, both at corporate level as well as in our schools.
This is according to Anton Jacobsz, managing director at value-added reseller, Networks Unlimited, who says, “Recent reports from Australia showed that a cybersecurity skills shortage in that country is putting public and private sectors at risk, as there are not enough skilled people to fight cybercrime, and that cybercrime is on the rise in that country. An annual survey showed that almost 60 percent of businesses in Australia had experienced at least one disruptive security breach per month during 2016, as compared to just 23.7 per cent the previous year. This survey shows quite definitively that cybercrime is on the rise in Australia, and we can undoubtedly extrapolate from this the need to be on cybercrime security alert in South Africa also. No country is immune, as the global ransomware cyber-attacks – Petya and WannaCry, in late June and mid-May respectively – recently showed. South Africa experienced disruption in just the same way as European countries and the United States.”
Jacobsz says that, given the increasing risks of cybercrime and the technology disruption being experienced by all industries today, the need to educate is of critical importance. “Industries today need to embrace innovation to grow their business and ensure a constant revenue stream, otherwise they will become, quite simply, obsolete. Around the world, digital transformation is changing the way that organisations transact, from being manual paper-based transactions to fully electronic or fully digital, and this in turn is opening up cybercrime opportunities. While we arguably have some way to go, South Africa is following this trend towards increasing digitilisation. It is therefore very worrying to note South Africa’s poor performance as measured by the JCSE’s seventh annual ICT skills survey. There is a clear need to upskill the country’s citizens.”
Jacobsz adds that specialised skills addressing new technologies are highly sought after globally. “We have seen in Australia that the rising threat level in business and government has sparked a recent hiring rush, with employers offering jobs to IT students from around that country, and notably often before they have even graduated. This, clearly, is not ideal. For South Africa, in addition to in-house internships and mentorships, we would propose that school curricula should include exposure to, and training, of ICT skills for every learner. This should start as early as the country’s foundation education curriculum, which is from Grade R to Grade Three.
“On top of that, the ICT curriculum should ensure that matriculants are job-ready when they leave school. The same holds true for universities and colleges – we want students to be more empowered practically and not only theoretically. In other words, we need a two-pronged approach in ICT skills training and education: upskilling adult employees right now, as well as taking a longer-term approach by looking at the schools and even the tertiary institutions.”
Jacobsz says that, at the same time as South Africa ensures a stronger focus on ICT skills training, we also need to ensure proper remuneration within the industry. He clarifies, “When we think about growing ICT skills and with them a strong cybersecurity focus in South Africa, we need to guard against a situation in which our brightest and best are poached by overseas companies. This has happened in Australia, where there has been an exodus of expertise. Learning from this, in South Africa we need to craft a situation in which the technology world can assist with job creation and, in turn, ongoing economic development within the country. So not only do we need to train our technology employees, we also need to offer them attractive job opportunities and salaries in order to keep them here once they have graduated.”
Jacobsz says online learning is a necessary tool that should be used in ICT training, both within the workplace as well as in schools. “In our view, online learning should be viewed as a serious socio-economic investment that results in additional life skills as well as expert skills. Sadly, the reality in our country is insufficient, or indeed in many cases, no hardware, software or accessibility to information technology devices in schools, leading to a further future workforce gap. Added to this is that quality education on how to use technology for everyday use is weak – something we are seeing more and more when recruiting.”
He concludes, “As well as looking to short-term solutions by supporting employees in-house through internships, mentoring and on-line learning opportunities, we also need to look at our school curriculum. Here, we need to think longer-term, by starting to train learners at school level already. If we do not address the need for ICT training in schools, the cyber skills shortage today is only going to get worse into the future.”