The Cloud has achieved a sort of quasi-mythical status when it comes to the digital transformation of enterprises and businesses. Some voices in the space see it as the be-all, end-all game changer and, especially in the last two years where the pandemic raged across the globe, a safe haven for companies to find shelter and survive the COVID-19 storm.

Whether Cloud Computing is or isn’t the panacea for enterprises coming out of the pandemic, as many believe it to be, is yet to be seen, but there is no doubt that the technology will continue to be a serious focus for organisations with the future in mind.

In South Africa, just like everywhere else, Cloud Computing is growing at an exponential rate, but the current fear is that the country will not have sufficient skills to meet the demand when Cloud technology reaches its zenith.

This is why IT News Africa got into contact with Yasirah Sakadavan, Group Engineering Learning Lead at Standard Bank Group and had an illuminating chat about the state of Cloud Computing skills in South Africa and what companies like Standard Bank can and are doing to make sure that SA is ready for the Cloud Revolution.

The Cloud Computing Skills Landscape in SA

When asked what this emerging technology means for the youth and skills landscape of South Africa, Sakadavan immediately answered that the Cloud is not emerging, “it has already emerged and this presents a massive opportunity for our youth.”

She quotes from a 2020 Gardner study:

“Gardner pegged the supply and demand ratio for Cloud skills in South Africa at five, which is low – meaning that for each Cloud job posting there are only five available professionals with the skills necessary for the jobs. So, it is currently a highly competitive landscape. And the picture isn’t all that different in other geographies,” she says.

“We lack the skills themselves, and we also lack the skills at the level of proficiency required. I believe this presents a massive opportunity for South Africa and the greater African continent because it means we don’t actually have a jobs crisis as we keep saying we do. Actually, far from it. Future-focused jobs – and the IMF predicts there will be 230 million new ones by 2030 – require a level of digital literacy and technical skills. The crisis, therefore, is that we don’t have those skills in sufficient supply. And therein lies the opportunity for our youth.”

Sakadavan relays that students, whether finishing high school or entering varsity, as well as young professionals, who have any knowledge related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), “would have  a fantastic baseline, just a lovely place to start to build their digital skills.”

She says that when we usually think about 4IR skills we often only think about the digital side. “Things like building Cloud Computing skills, AI, data sciences, and coding and security are massive, but, because the narrative tends to be dominated by the digital side, we forget that there’s another important side to 4IR skills.”

“The more human skills,” Sakadavan chimes, are likewise very important. “Creativity, emotional intelligence, analytical and critical thinking, and from my perspective, having a growth mindset – that ability to be a constant learner, and be curious, are as important as the more technical skills.”

An interesting proposition – how can creativity aid someone when they are working with Cloud Computing? The field is seen as a very exclusive one, where generalisations form around images of bespectacled men pulling at their ties and typing fiendishly away at a laptop in some deep cellar somewhere, but this is actually rarely the case and according to Sakadavan, creativity gives people the ability to “conceptualise possibilities that don’t exist. To be able to take a problem, to look at it and turn it around from every angle, and to interrogate the problem from perspectives that one wouldn’t normally have.”

“To conceptualise both the problem and the solution in terms of possibility – the minute you do this, you are automatically creating something new,” she says.

At the heart of it, Sakadavan adds, creativity in the context of the Cloud is all about problem-solving and having the ability to think laterally – differently, and be able to turn situations on their heads and say, “Can we code it? Can we do it? What are the limitations? How do we overcome them, etc.?”

When asked what the Cloud skills landscape looks like in South Africa, a country that has infamously dealt with years of the so-called brain drain, and one where the social inequality means that many South Africans don’t have access to these skills, Sakadavan says that you can look at it either as a glass half full, or a glass half empty.

“Personally, I think it presents an amazing opportunity because it means we know what the challenge is and we, therefore, have the ability to close that gap.”

She says that organisations like Standard Bank and large tech vendors have a responsibility to address this issue because it has become a business issue. Sakadavan points to Standard Bank’s vision, to ‘drive Africa’s growth’ – “These are the skills actually required to drive Africa’s growth,” she says.

What Standard Bank is doing to Close the Skills Gap

“I may be a bit biased in opinion,” Sakadavan says with a smile, “but I believe we’re doing quite a lot and can be really proud of our investment in developing Cloud and broader digital skills.”

According to Sakadavan, Standard Bank sponsors and runs quite a large number of skills development programmes targeted at increasing the previously mentioned 4IR skills in high school and university graduates.

“For quite a number of years, we’ve had successive cohorts of graduate development programmes, and those not only provide employment opportunities to youth but also that foot in the door that youth often struggle with to begin their careers, whether it’s in the tech space and more broadly,” she says, continuing that in South Africa’s tech space particularly, there are quite a number of barriers for young professionals to enter the industry.

Because of the explosive popularity of Cloud, she says, Standard Bank has also had to rapidly upskill its own existing workforce. “We’ve had to take experienced hires in our own workforce that had to learn to be novices again in some respects, learning a host of new skills,” she says.

Sakadavan believes that whether Standard Bank upskills externally or upskills its own workforce, the company is still contributing to the cumulative Cloud skills sphere South Africa possesses as a nation.

“Last year [Standard Bank] also launched, in partnership with Amazon Web Services, what’s called our AWS Cloud Skills Guild – targeted at Cloud engineers to deepen their expertise and skill. We are also fortunate to have this incredible partnership with Microsoft which offers the Enterprise Skills Initiative (ESI) which is also designed to upskill our workforce in Microsoft Azure.”

She says Standard Bank has established a number of online digital learning academies deployed through their online MyLearning platform, and the Group’s longer-term vision is to truly democratise learning by making these skills development initiatives externally available to South Africa’s youth as well. These academies are highly accessible, she says. “Our employees have the opportunity to access learning at any time, anywhere based on what makes sense for them and when they can best learn.”

When asked if there is light at the end of the tunnel, and if Standard Bank is currently seeing an uptick in the country’s general Cloud skills, Sakadavan says simply “I think we’re not there yet.”

“And one of the reasons we’re not there yet,” she adds, “is because of the amount of time that it takes to actually build and cultivate a deep skill in an individual. It just takes the time that it takes for us to master something and be able to apply what we’ve learnt across a range of problems and contexts.”

Time, she says, is a challenge for learning professionals, and it leads her to ask: “How do we accelerate [the learning] without taking the joy out of the learning experience? What are the ways in which we can create better conditions for learning? It takes a very careful blend of art – sensing how far people can be stretched and challenged before the learning process begins to feel overwhelming- and science – making sound, data-led decisions about learning content, methods, and the ecosystem in which that learning takes place.”

Sakadavan adds that confidence is a massive input to enable someone to learn. They need to feel a level of confidence and self-belief.

She says that because of South Africa’s history and socio-economic issues, confidence is lacking amongst a lot of the country’s youth, which makes it essential to integrate emotional resilience and social intelligence skills and create an inclusive culture through learning.

In terms of exciting new endeavours at Standard Bank, Sakadavan tells us that a few months ago the company embarked an on ambitious partnership programme with its three major tech partners – Microsoft, AWS and Salesforce.

“Our joint intent with our three tech partners is to exponentially increase the number of certified engineers not only here in South Africa, but also across the continent, and to upskill and enable Small-Medium Enterprises to the extent that they can actually become competitive tech vendors themselves, making Africa a competitive hub for digital and engineering skills and services” she explains.

“It’s a journey that will take us up to 2025, and we have very specific and ambitious targets that we have put in place for what we’d like to achieve. Part of that journey also includes elevating 4IR skills across the continent – what we refer to as ‘Digital Savviness’.”

Sakadavan concludes that the initiative is still relatively new but incredibly exciting as it speaks to the heart of enabling Africa’s growth, in line with Standard Bank’s purpose.

By Luis Monzon
Follow Luis Monzon on Twitter
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