The threat of the skills shortage
In terms of growth, from the crop of Africa’s business triumphs, telecommunications is in a league of its own. Africa is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. The runaway success of pre-paid cellular services looks in no immediate danger of slowing pace. The scaling-up of a skilled workforce to match this development speed is, and will continue to be, a major priority. Job applicants at all levels in the industry will be needed including engineers, technicians, business development managers, and staff dedicated to customer services.
Despite this high demand, traditional routes to becoming an ICT professional are not going to produce enough competent candidates to fill the labor hole.
WHERE THE PROBLEM STEMS
The problem starts with basic education. Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education in South Africa commented that “the performances of learners in the gateway subjects of maths, physical science and accounting remain cause for concern”.
The number of students who do well enough in subjects like mathematics and science to gain access to university is below the required amount to ensure there will be enough ICT professionals to sustain the demand in industry in the next five years.
Whilst there is a general skills challenge for this area, the nature of mobile phone advancement does nothing to help fight this issue. High-end IT skills are notably lacking. Mobile phones increasingly rely on converging technology with every re-invention and therefore require divergent technological skills as voice, data and video become integrated into one device and service. Engineers and designers are specifically in short supply.
As Andile Tlhoaéle, Inforcomm CEO and member of the ICT charter steering committee in SA, has pointed out, companies that are forced to import skills, or outsource, will inevitably erode human capital development as the industry will be made up of a foreign workforce.
But ICT is not the only fruit, and other more traditional industries that are expected to provide the basis for African economic development will find themselves scrambling for qualified job candidates. Let us divert our attention to mining, an industry that according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is poised to return to the boom time.
A study conducted by Namibia’s Chamber of Mines demonstrated a decline of 37 percent of mining professionals and 15 percent artisan trades, and concluded that skills supply will fall short of demand within only three years.
For South Africa, the third biannual Mining Survey by Landelahni Business Leaders has clearly warned in its recent report that an impending skills shortage could stunt future growth as training is below the required demand and the situation is exasperated by many skilled workers leaving the country. Landelahni CEO, Sandra Burmeister, cautioned that “we are not producing sufficient skills to replace the ageing engineering and artisan population, let alone to gear the industry for growth”.
The Landelahni Mining Survey sites management, professional, skilled and semi-skilled categories as trailing behind the industry average at present.
On close inspection this type of recruitment challenge is common across other industries upon which Africa hinges its progression including aviation, port operations, banking and financial services to name but a few.
Educational reform is the first step to tackling the skills problem and there are strong arguments that the industry needs to work hand-in-hand with the public sector on the training priorities for each country if employment challenges are to be addressed by regional human resources.
To this effect in South Africa, the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) said it would not accept submissions for inclusion in the final national skills development strategy unless they were signed off “by relevant director-generals, and senior business and labor leadership in the sector”.
Any measures in restructuring basic education, training, mentoring and apprenticeships taken now will arguably be for a longer term solution whereas the immediate years ahead will be a difficult time for recruitment into the brightest industries. At least for the limited pool of trained professionals in Africa, firms will be eager to secure their skills.
Why Your Team Should Contribute to Open Source Projects
Much of the world’s software infrastructure, including that which underpins multibillion-dollar corporations, has been created and maintained by developers, often anonymous, who do it for free in their spare time.
This is the open-source software movement: software whose source code anyone can use and edit. It has united developers from all around the world to create, improve and iterate on flagship software: from well-known consumer products like Firefox and Android, through to key tech infrastructure like Kubernetes.
Open source has served as the training ground for a generation of programmers, developers, and software engineers. It has given them the opportunity to improve their skills and to self-direct, and get involved in projects that they find interesting and meaningful. In fact, according to a new survey, open-source skills are more valued than proprietary ones.
Around 30 years ago, open source-driven innovations were often academic endeavours, sponsored by university IT departments, where students were encouraged to contribute and learn software engineering skills while simultaneously benefiting the university and the wider world.
However, over the last ten years, the world of open source has changed. Today, open-source is seen as the innovation engine across large, forward-thinking enterprises. Organisations are increasingly eager to adopt open-source projects like Linux or Jenkins, whereby they not only leverage technologies but also provide resources to create and contribute to projects. For example, Facebook, Google or LinkedIn embrace open source by creating and building innovative software as communal projects. In fact, open-source technologies and influencers are seen as rock stars in industries from global banking to retailers.
We can see open source everywhere. Projects like Linux, Kubernetes, React.js, or Tensorflow are becoming ubiquitous in IT departments, while open source technologists are quickly becoming the most highly sought-after talent. Innovative organisations are clamouring to build open-source credentials to draw in the best talent to cope with the increasing digital demand on businesses.
Why we all benefit from open source
The ubiquity of open source software means that your organisation is probably already using some of these technologies, many in business-critical applications. By encouraging community participation, organisations have the opportunity to drive change that matters to their business today as well as drive technology innovation forward. Participating in open source helps in-house teams stay motivated and at the cutting edge. Developers want to work on projects they are passionate about. Letting them do this can improve morale, and allowing them to take on challenges they may not face when working on in-house software can help nurture creativity and new approaches.
What’s more, companies that are seen as supporters and leaders in open source are seen as innovators in their industry, increasing motivation internally and visibility externally. In addition, these organisations find it much easier to attract the best IT talent to their businesses in a virtuous cycle of innovation driving innovators.
In the end, there is a clear economic reason to get involved with open source - in 2018, open-source software added between €65 billion and €95 billion to the European economy. It is in everyone’s long-term interest to cultivate and nurture open source projects that can do far more commercial and social good than siloed in-house teams could alone.
Today’s challenge to the open-source movement
While the benefits are clear, some companies don’t see the immediate benefit in letting their teams contribute to open source projects and believe all of an employee’s productive energy should go into work that directly generates revenue. Some organisations have discouraged the use of and contribution to open-source projects in-house or even prevented employees from contributing outside of work.
However, even if companies don’t restrict their out-of-work activity, many developers with full-time jobs simply don’t have the time. Getting seriously into the weeds of an open-source project means a lot of time and energy on coding and fielding bug reports and support requests - often in numbers that an overwhelmed developer minority couldn’t possibly manage completely.
In her book, Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software, Nadia Eghbal notes that almost half of contributors across 275 popular GitHub projects only contributed once - accounting for under 2% of overall ‘commits’.
Helping open source communities helps us all
We all benefit from ensuring that open source projects retain their guiding hands and most experienced talent from a mixture of employed and volunteer contributors. While there will always be a new generation of younger programmers willing to build up their skills and take the reins of open source projects, full-time developers who are motivated and supported by their employers can leverage their experience to take these projects to the next level.
Open source communities should be considered as shared assets. Their engagement provides short- and long-term benefits for companies, contributors, and society as a whole. When it comes to open source communities, we should always keep in mind the classic problem of the tragedy of the commons - it is a shared space that benefits everyone, and we have to actively work to ensure that both developers creating and companies using open source software put in and take away a balanced contribution. The very companies that put the most energy into helping the open-source movement stand to gain the most from it flourishing.