Bleak Prospects for South African IT?
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[14 February 2001] - The all-pervasive brain drain continues to threaten the beleaguered IT industry meanwhile the government is promising new immigration laws to attract new skills.
Skills developers and employment agencies have long been lobbying the government to re-evaluate existing immigration laws to attract new skills to local IT, technological and scientific concerns. Meanwhile the pernicious problem of skills-outflow is starting to assume serious proportions.
Everyone knows someone, a skilled someone, who has left our shores for good. There are currently 40,000 job opportunities in Ireland alone that span all business sectors - undoubtedly the allure of a crime free life and a Sterling salary will see many crossing the waters.
USA, Britian, Europe, Australia, Cananda (to name only the major attractors) are all absorbing South Africa's IT and technological wiz-kids who are seeking a better life elsewhere. "Most of the people who are leaving are young and highly skilled these are skills we can ill afford to lose, let alone replace," states Karen Geldenhuys, a director of Pretoria-based Abacus Recruitment, one of SA's leading IT recruitment consultancies. "Many say they will return, but the sad truth is that the bulk never come back," she bemoaned.
Geldenhuys' company recently signed a deal with Cape IT Solutions, an employee consultancy based in the Netherlands, to supply IT personnel from SA for deployment in the IT industry in the Netherlands. There are just as many employment agencies in a host of other countries that are all too eager to suck up willing talent.
The world, it seems, is gearing up for the new economy and countries the world over are preparing for a technological boom by attracting the necessary skills. Unless South Africa redresses it's situation then it will face some serious problems in the future.
"We can rest assured, the movement of our skilled IT staff from this country is prolific," says recruitment specialist Bryan Hattingh. "The amount of people who give up their citizenship when they leave the country are still in the minority; there is still a huge amount of workers leaving for contractual work for two to three years, and there is no way to keep track of them,"he adds. Statistics reveal, however, that these untracked 'contract' workers often leave never to return. Government ministers, meanwhile, remain tight-lipped when asked exactly how the government plans to address the brain drain that is aggravating the countrys massive skills shortage in crucial industries like IT. President Thabo Mbeki has, however, promised an immanent review of existing immigration legislation to attract foreign skills.
Likewise Minister Essop Pahad was heard to utter that he believes that there are a number of foreign workers with the necessary skills to fill the gap, most notably from India (which will be used as a recruiting ground for IT staff) and Russia (for the scientific industries).
As the world braces for the new economy and Eastern European and Asian economies revitalise themselves to face the digital age head-on it is more than likely that South Africa will only receive the dregs of these foreign immigrants who are, more than likely, trying to find a better life and not a return to violence, crime, and rapidly devaluating currencies.
Nonetheless, the very fact that SA programmers and IT personnel continue to be in such demand overseas proves that SA is at least is doing something right.
Compared to the cold, wet, and overcrowded northern climes and the Australian outback, South Africa at least still has the allure of a better quality of life.
The glamour, however, is fading fast for a rootless younger generation who need more than sunny climes to keep them local.