Industry concerns on demand and supply gaps of ICT workforce

(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) – Sri Lanka has taken great strides in developing its Information and Communication Technology workforce over the last few years, but still much needs to be done in improving the quality of the entrants to the industry, observed a group of academics and industry professionals at a recent brainstorming session at Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information Technology chaired by Minister Hon. Ajith P. Perera recently.

Academics representing Universities of Colombo and Moratuwa, National Institute of Business Management, Horizon Campus Malabe and a number of professionals from private sector participated in this brainstorming session analyzing the trends revealed in National IT-BPM Workforce Survey of 2018. Information and Communication Technology Agency(ICTA) has conducted the survey to comprehend the changes in the extent and the composition of IT and BPM workforce in Sri Lanka.

The survey has indicated a growth of IT-BPM workforce from 82,854 in 2014, the last survey year before to 124,873 in 2018. While the group found this impressive, they also observed a need for both quantitative and qualitative improvement to meet the requirements of the industry that has ambitious plans to reach a USD 5 billion target export income by year 2025, probably becoming the top service industry sector in terms of foreign revenue generation.

The survey also found enhancement in the qualification and experience of workforce. The share of employees with a Bachelor’s degree or above has increased from 63% in 2013 to 85% in 2018. It also looks as if bachelor’s degree has become the entry level qualification. This is a good standard to be maintained by the industry. Still it should not mean industry must completely ignore those with talent but not a qualification. The best would be to get anybody to a company based purely on skills and then provide them opportunities to climb up the ladder collecting education qualifications on the way.

The group expressed concern about the age distribution of workers in ICT-BPM industry, another important finding of the survey. Nearly 70% of the ICT-BPM workforce is either 34 years or below and 93% are 44 or below. This indicates a serious dropout rate starting from mid-thirties. ICT industry must explore retain measures to ensure the diversification of professionals within.

Government IT users are not used to their best potential, also revealed the survey. Government uses nearly half of its IT workforce on IT and tech support. (46%) This is more than double the percentage private sector client (non-ICT) firms use (20%). On the other hand, the number of government IT workforce in business development, software project management, business analysis, user interface engineering etc are less. This is a point the state institutes must seriously note.

The group comprehensively brainstormed means building capacity during the school and higher education years, not just the text skills, but professional and soft skills as well to meet industry requirements. They deliberated on the proper duration for internships that benefits all parties, students, industry and institutes; right time for internships – should that be in the final year or the one before and how exactly soft skills to be groomed. It was also observed that the skills necessary for IT jobs are no more the same. For example, one who plans to work for an IT firm may be more conversant with skills in coding while an entrepreneur willing to launch a startup might require communication and marketing skills more. These nuances are the interest of higher education institutes in grooming the next generation of IT professionals of the nation.

The survey has also indicated a transformation in the role of Information Technology professionals as at least a quarter of them were found to use emerging technologies such as Cloud technologies, IoT, Big data analysis, robotics etc.

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