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Managing skills relevancy amidst the STEM talent crunch

The labour market continues to evolve as technology solutions such as AI advance at pace. Building and maintaining talent that can remain relevant during this evolution is crucial especially when we consider local youth unemployment rates, and the global STEM talent crunch, this youth development month.

In 2018, Korn Ferry predicted a global technology labour skills shortage of 4.3 million workers, and unrealised output of $449.70 billion, by 2030. With technology underpinning all other sectors of the global economy, this talent shortage could stall advancement not only in the tech space but across industries.

Today, the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Future of Jobs Report 2023 says: “The largest job creation and destruction effects come from environmental, technology and economic trends… Technological advancement through increased adoption of new and frontier technologies and increased digital access are expected to drive job growth.”

“We found that the tech crunch was already having an impact on key business areas like innovation, business agility and workforce productivity,” says André Zitzke, Manager: Global Academic Programmes for Africa at SAS.

“It’s clear that urgent action is needed to tackle this technical skills crisis that is already stifling productivity and innovation across the globe, from the US to South Africa,” says Zitzke. “This is why SAS remains focused on developing and grooming talent to enter the technology space through foundational education. It starts at the school level from a young age with the focus on data literacy and leveraging free cloud applications like SAS DataFly and the downloadable toolkit.”

Zitzke says that several local industry events like Coding4Mandela and Teachers4DataAnalytics that are vital to expose young people to the career opportunities available for those with STEM skills. The private sector must also engage with universities to ensure that their programmes are capable of developing industry-ready talent.

“The SAS Specialisation programs for universities is another example of how tertiary institutions can get access to the means to develop technical skills in students. When combined with the practical exposure that hackathons like The Curiosity Cup and SAS Hackathon provide, and SAS-based industry certification available at a much-discounted rate to students, there are opportunities to provide students with an advantage when it comes to applying for their first job.”

However, a traditional reliance on university degrees may not be enough. “Our How to Solve the Data Science Skills Shortage report indicated that large companies would consider dropping their degree requirements,” says Adesh Nathalal, Education Manager at SAS in South Africa. “While they largely want to work with academic institutions to recruit tech talent directly, they also understand that relying on graduates alone will not fill vacancies fast enough.”

This is why SAS outlines three recommendations to address the technology skills gap:

  • Consolidate diverse AI and analytics tools around modern, open, multi-language tools which will increase data science productivity and empower end users to do basic analytics tasks, thereby democratising analytics and allowing more people to join the field.
  • Increase upskilling and cross-skilling of the existing workforce, including people from non-technical backgrounds. Encourage a diverse range of certifications, including training courses from software tools vendors.
  • Create a learning environment and culture where employees are empowered and encouraged to grow their skills.

“SAS continues to play an instrumental role in nurturing the next generation of data scientists and analytics professionals through a variety of programmes, partnerships, and mentorship initiatives,” Nathalal says: “In addition to our corporate training and certification offering that helps to keep current employees’ skills relevant, we offer work-based training programmes for graduates within SAS, our partners and clients to ensure graduates keep up with the industry’s evolution and obtain certifications that support continual learning and career growth.”

“With the high demand for technical talent only expected to keep rising, SAS remains steadfast in its commitment to investing in the development of STEM skills and fostering a diverse and inclusive community in the country. Our extensive engagement with our clients as employers, educational institutions, students, and educators bears testament to this commitment,” says Zitzke.