Why We Need To Encourage A Future In Data
However, when we look at the local landscape, is this reality mirrored here, especially if we consider the growth of the digital world and its impact on South African businesses?
The answer is a simple no – not, because the need for data scientists is not there. In fact, it is the complete opposite. There is a very real need for these unique technical skills in the local business market, especially when you consider the amount of data businesses find themselves dealing with, and this data continues to increase significantly year on year.
We know already that businesses are realising that if used correctly, data actually adds massive value to the bottom line and results in better business profitability. However, the data is often too complex and disparate and thus requires a unique skill set of a data scientist, if you want the data analysed to ensure that it can actually add value. A data scientist is someone who has the ability to harness a wide range of skills to translate raw data into a meaningful end result for the business, as well as communicate this result in a way which tells a story of interest to the audience. To do this, one usually possesses the following skills: technical IT, behavioural economics, statistics, visualization, psychology, business knowledge.
Yet, South Africa still finds itself in a rather dire situation when it comes to these needed ICT skills. The results of the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) skills survey reiterates this sentiment, confirming that the local shortage, in ICT, is still massive. Couple this with the fact that often technically skilled individuals are recruited to work overseas, has compounded this situation. The result, unfortunately, is a negative impact on the business environment, as organisations struggle to find the specialised personal they need.
Given this, it is becoming clear that more, in the way of skills development, needs to be done. The JCSE survey is very clear about the fact that there is a need for industry and academia to step in and help South Africa build the skills needed to drive forward this new digital economy businesses find themselves operating in. Of course it is great to see how school and universities are starting to place a focus on programmes dedicated to IT skills development, but this alone is not enough.
From a corporate point of view, more companies need to get involved and become part of the solution. This can be as simple as supporting ongoing programmes already active in the market that encourage young employees to study further to develop their technical skills capabilities – based on what the market requires. Alternatively, businesses can develop their own programmes or encourage young employees to study further, eg. part-time graduate or diploma courses.
Furthermore, the public sector also has a great opportunity here – where it could provide facilities, like training centres and bursary schemes (over and above the current programmes, and ones specially focused on ICT) to assist young professionals becoming better skilled before, and when, entering the job market in the ICT space.
The need for specific ICT skills in the business world will likely not disappear anytime soon – rather it will only grow as innovation in this space continues. As a result, a career in this path will serve an individual very well. Corporations in South Africa should support the development of niche technical skills through IT education and by getting involved in programmes to assist and promote such ICT skills development. Without this commitment, we cannot ensure that the technical skills needed by businesses today, will be there in the future – these skills have to be developed if the generations to come are able to make an impact.