Closing the High-tech Skills Gap Requires a New Alliance for Skills Development

23rd November 2020 By: Creamer Media Reporter

By Yershen Pillay, CEO, Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority (CHIETA)

The widening high-tech skills gap remains a challenge that needs to be confronted by all stakeholders. This widening high-tech skills gap occurs within the context of increased digitisation, disruption and artificial intelligence (AI). The data suggests that more than 70% of businesses find the recruitment of high-tech skills a major challenge. According to the Future of Jobs Report 2020, 84% of employers are set to rapidly digitise their workplaces in the next few years, and around 40% of existing employees will require significant reskilling. The report also suggests that skills shortages are more acute in emerging high-tech professions such as data scientists, AI specialists and software developers. Python programming, for example, has been identified as one of the top ten skills for those who are unemployed. 

Based on the data, we must consider various approaches to close the high-tech skills gap and ensure a steady supply of talent now and in the future. The need to close the high-tech skills gap is both an organisational and national imperative. The government needs to digitise its training and skilling systems to stem the rising tide of job losses and ensure adequate, fair and sustainable labour absorption. For organisations, high-tech skills such as data scientists and data analysts have become essential for short-term competitiveness and long-term sustainability. A steady supply of quality high-tech skills is a must if we are to achieve transient competitive advantages and long-term sustainability. 

This has brought to the fore the need to rethink and re-evaluate partnerships and collaborations between government, civil society and business. For long-term success, a new alliance for high-tech skills development must be formed by all stakeholders. This alliance should be well structured and purpose-driven with the aim of creating new stakeholder value. To meet the rising demand for AI specialists, data analysts, data scientists and roboticists, government and business will have to establish immediate and meaningful alliances for scaling critical high-tech skills. Digital learning programmes will have to be developed and scaled and new teaching methodologies will need to be established.

Digital training and skilling programmes must become mainstream and quality assured for maintaining a steady supply of quality high-tech skills. The workplace itself will have to be transformed into a centre for skills excellence with simulated practical training becoming the order of the day. 

A new alliance to facilitate partnerships and collaborations at scale is a viable approach to be considered. There is no need to reinvent the wheel in this regard. The training partnership between the Chemical Industries Education &  Training Authority (CHIETA), the Coastal KZN TVET College, and chemical companies such as SAPREF, is a prime example of the type of partnerships and collaborations that need to be scaled. The Coastal College Simulation Plant in KZN provides a blueprint for collaborations on occupationally directed training. The partnership proved a useful tool to skill learners for the chemical industries and prepare them for gainful and immediate employment. Similar collaborations are needed for high-tech professions to close the high-tech skills gap. 

Due to the resource-scarce environment, a collaboration between government and the private sector will be an essential success factor. A lack of collaboration may result in slower than expected progress including significant inefficiencies in the skills development pipeline. To address the need for increased collaboration, the CHIETA will be embarking on a nation-wide stakeholder engagement programme with captains of industry to establish SETAs as partners in value creation. This is a call to action for captains of industry to reimagine and re-evaluate their relationships with the CHIETA and other SETAs in a concerted effort to close the high-tech skills gap.