Chronic Data Skills Shortage - Should We Compete or Collaborate?

Ryan Jamieson
March 27, 2023

The article ‘Chronic ICT skills shortage deepens amid skills recycling’ by Sibahle Malinga from ITWeb raises some valid concerns about the practice of "recycling" corporate skills. While the author mainly focuses on the negative effects of this practice on job opportunities and economic growth in South Africa, there is also a larger issue at play: the need for upskilling and cross-skilling to address the growing demand for data skills in the digital age.

The Data skills problem

The backdrop of the article is research conducted by Vanson Bourne, and published by SAP, which surveyed corporates across Africa to understand the current levels of availability of various skills regarded as critical for digital transformations. The research identified various skills that are mentioned as in-demand, and next to cybersecurity skills, data analytics skills are listed by 63% of respondents as critical skills they require but struggle to find.

Now, the research report, discusses at length 2 key strategies companies are using to address the demand for these skills:

  1. Attract and Retain talent
  2. Upskilling and reskilling internally

It is here where Malinga from ITWeb then adds a unique perspective, building on SAP Africa MD, Cathy Smith's premise there is an urgent need for organisations to invest in skills development and training programmes. Malinga paints a picture of a unique contributor to SA's skills gap: "recycling skills". Instead of building more skills, South African companies seem to hire new skills from each other. The small pool of skills becomes a hot commodity jumping from one employer to the next. This recycling of skills can create a situation where companies and consultancies compete for existing skills in a low-supply market, which can lead to inflated salaries and limited job opportunities for young professionals.

Calybre's unique vision to address the problem

If we take Porter’s 5 Forces Model as a guide, we at Calybre take Cathy Smit's call to invest in skills development and training to heart as we aim to disrupt the "intensity of the competitive landscape" with our "substitute service offering".

Calybre was recently founded by 3 veterans in the data consultancy space, and the primary mission is to build data skills. In the 6 months since our launch, we've already grown our associate programme to more than 30 young people from different walks of life. For us, the success of our skills development programme is founded on three pillars which are "all about the people" and not "all about the data":

  1. Talent Attraction and Acquisition: We're intentional to identify candidates with the best aptitude, attitude, and drive to be successful in the data and analytics space. Some of our candidates may have non-typical academic backgrounds, but have the right foundational make-up of resilience, logical reasoning and problem-solving, mathematical and technical acumen, values and motivation to cross over into the data and analytics industry as well-rounded multi-skilled data analysts and/or data engineers.
  2. Talent Development: We leverage the deep data and analytics experience from our leadership team, to impart the technology-agnostic data fundamental skills and then complement their learning with diverse technologies on-premises and in-cloud. We are agile in our curricula to adapt to fast-changing industry trends and to tailor learning to our customers' particular needs. "Coding alone doth not a data specialist makes", which is why our expert-led learning paths include power skills, functional skills, and technical skills.
  3. Building teams: We believe that data and analytics is a team sport. Therefore, we pride ourselves in constructing multi-skilled teams to address our customers' specific needs, while we also provide ongoing support with a range of platforms, tools, and resources to enable our Calybrians to integrate into our customers' teams effectively. From day one, we ensure a culture of working and learning together, so Calybrians augment into customer teams and share their continual learning to the overall growth of the team. Calybre's leaders also believe that learning and growth never stop, which is why we prioritise continuous learning within the team context for as long as possible.

Calybre's value proposition to our customers

We propose that all players collaborate rather than compete - let's focus on upskilling and cross-skilling to build a larger pool of talent that can meet the growing demand for data skills.

We provide you with support aligned with your data and analytics skills strategy:

  1. If you want to insource, we can support you with talent acquisition and talent development as a service tailored to your specific needs and technology landscape. We support a variety of learning paths to complement your in-house graduate development programme, upskilling young professionals already on your team, or cross-skilling other staff from anywhere else in the organisation.
  2. If you want to outsource, we can provide you with skills from our talent pool, structured according to your requirements and commercial context, with options of staffing a whole team or augmenting key skills into existing teams.
  3. If you want to blend the above, or even start with outsourcing with the option to later convert to in-source, our flexible customer engagement models will easily adapt to your skills-development roadmap.

Let’s upgrade from “reuse” to true “recycle” skills through partnership!

In conclusion, let’s remember that the full definition of sustainability lies in the "circular economy" which entails "reduce", "reuse", and "recycle". The problems in SA's ICT and Data skills market, described by Malinga, are stuck in "reuse".

We need to rethink that strategy and elevate to true “recycling of skills” which includes investing in upskilling and cross-skilling to build a larger pool of talent. At Calybre, we are aware that the idea of "upskilling" or "cross-skilling" staff into data and analytics roles is overwhelming, as most companies don't know where to start and what skills to develop. This is where the opportunity of collaborating with experienced data specialists like Calybre removes those barriers for you.

We're ready to partner with you, and through collaboration, we aim to positively impact the overall data skills challenge in South Africa and globally.

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