ICT skill whose supply has let down demand [Nation (Kenya)]
(Nation (Kenya) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) There is one crucial specialisation in ICT that seems to have gone unnoticed in Kenya for these many years that the sector has shown tremendous growth.
A recent research by the School of Business and Management Studies at Technical University of Kenya (TUK) confirms a glaring shortage of skills in information systems analysis (ISA) despite the large pool of the country's ICT workforce.
The study was conducted by Prof Atieno Ndede-Amadi, an associate professor of information systems and accounting, and the head of the School of Business and Management Studies at TUK.
The professor attributes the shortage partly to the absence of comprehensive ISA academic programmes in local learning institutions.
Worse, she says, is that despite the problem being dire, the awareness level about the value of the skill is quite low, not only among students, but also among curriculum developers.
Prof Atieno's study supported findings by an earlier survey (in 2011) involving the Kenya Information Technology and Communications Board (now Authority) and IBM.
The survey was meant to identify skills gaps in the country's ICT sector. It sought to understand the current and future hiring needs of IT companies operating locally, so as to design a steady pipeline of talent.
The report of the survey states: "With the increasing sophistication of ICT and its applications, high-end skill-sets are increasingly required, and availability presents a challenge to growth.
Organisations deploying systems that require high-end skills have to bring such staff from abroad for short-term deployment. Kenya has to compete for such staff globally, and with limited resources, the [danger to growth of the high-end ICT systems development is real]."
Prof Atieno confirms that she found that the lack of skills in information systems analysis so serious that many employers were hiring from other markets.
The approach is costing local companies a lot of money, and at the same time irking unemployed Kenyan IT professionals and fresh graduates struggling to find work and thinking they are being ignored.
Because of the shortage, both the studies state, the discipline has been serving up very high wages for those with the skills, most of them foreigners. IT foreign consultants, the KICTA/IBM study found, charged between $1500 and $2000 a day.
Yet these expatriates returned to their home countries after their stints, having not transferred the knowledge to the locals.
Prof Atieno's study determined further that the existing comparatively high salaries for information systems analysts have still failed to attract the talent locally, due to better opportunities in other markets.
According to the study, the few local information systems analysts "are quickly attracted to and taken up by more developed economies able to offer higher salaries and benefits. This makes an already bad situation worse, declares Prof Atieno.
Information systems, or IS, can be defined technically as a set of interrelated technologies used to collect, retrieve, process, store and distribute information to support decision-making in an organisation.
In addition, IS helps managers and other workers to analyse complex problems, develop new products, and integrate various modules, both within and across departments.
It aids in inter-departmental communication, leading to better coordination and improved transparency by sharing information through the organisation.
Information systems analysts are therefore the individuals who are skilled in developing and using such tools.
The research attributes the skill gap partly to the absence of comprehensive academic training programmes in local universities. Moreover, there is a general lack of awareness among students on what they might be missing out on concerning IS, according to Prof Atieno.
Her study also found the level of IS awareness s a field of specialisation among Kenyan university business students to be low. As such, many young people learn of the existence and application of IS and the related career opportunities only after they get out to the real world of work.
This is despite the fact that both public and private universities and other higher learning institutions offer robust computer science programmes.
Many of these institutions, argues Prof Atieno, produce large numbers of general computer scientists who lack competences in very specific fields.
The market, she adds, is thus awash with computer programmers who are savvy in the development of computer systems and applications, as evidenced by the increasing release of locally developed apps in the market.
While Prof Atieno admits that this is a positive developments, her concern is that a good computer scientist or programmer does not necessarily make up for a good systems analyst.
Likewise, a good computer science academic programme does not make up for a solid information systems academic programme, which appears to be the assumption in some of these learning institutions. The two disciplines are complementary to but not substitutes of each other, she advises.
Part two of this article will be published in Springboard pull-out on Monday, February 10, and it will focus on how and why local universities have failed to teach ISA as a full course
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