Industry needs to create local IP

The Small-to-Medium Enterprise (SME) forum has applauded the initiative between the ICT industry and the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), but has called for more focus on the development of local skills and retaining them in the country.

Last week a consortium of ICT companies, including IBM SA, Microsoft Corp., Bytes Technology Group, Unisys Corp. and Wavestrider announced the launch of the first post-graduate ICT learnership program in Sandton. The program is aimed at reducing the time taken for graduates to become productive after they complete their university degrees.

The launch of the program will bring the number of learners trained in the ICT sector to in excess of the total target of 3 500 learners, which was due to be reached by March next year.

The program, which will be run from the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, will amount to a certified Masters in Information Engineering, with graduates having the option to either specialize in information or telecommunications engineering. It will be open to other universities and companies that face problems with time required for graduates to become productive in the workplace.

During the launch, Prof. Ray Nkado, who will facilitate the program, said plans are already under way to offer a CIO development program, which will be structured around courses offered by different academic schools and disciplines at Wits.

President of the SME forum, Tebogo Khaas, says that, although the initiative is a step forward in breaching the skills gap, more effort should be invested in ensuring the development of local IP.

“We should not merely appreciate what we are offered by multinationals, but we need to make sure that SA (South Africa) produces its own IP, which can be a source of foreign revenue. This will also reduce the industry’s reliance on foreign-owned IP. Graduates such as those that will be produced through the program should be encouraged to contribute towards the country’s intellectual wealth,” he says. Khaas argues that there is a need for programs to be put in place that create an environment for skilled graduates to initiate their own businesses and to produce their own solutions.

“Emphasis should be placed on creating entrepreneurship. This is because the future of SA’s ICT depends on producing people with knowledge, who can translate it to solve unique local problems using ICT,” he says. Mark Harris, CGM of IBM, who launched the program, says it is important for the industry to engage in unity. “IBM used to run a learnership program, but we soon realized that we are not a university, and that is why we got involved in this joint industry initiative,” he says.

“The two registered Level 7 learnerships (Masters degrees) fill some of the most pressing skills gaps in the ICT sector — ensuring that students acquire skills which are in high demand from employers across the board,” says Oupa Mopaki, CEO of the ISETT Seta.

Mopaki also emphasized that the numbers and targets of learners reached on their own are meaningless. “What counts is the impact that these learnerships will have in alleviating critical skills shortages using ICT infrastructure and skills, not just in our sector of the economy, but across all sectors,” Mopaki concludes.