Employers have long known that there really is a shortage of people who can program and, incredibly, not all of those who apply for programming jobs can program. The shortage of skills is a global problem, not only a local one – unbelievably, only one in 10 organisations say they have the technical skills they need to succeed, with the biggest shortages of IT skills in the areas of software engineering, cyber security, mobile computing, cloud computing, social networking and analytics.

The situation locally is exacerbated by the state of education, says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings. “The South African authorities who are responsible for the curricula in accredited training in IT have designed a static educational tick-box of required technology skills. These skills are, however, changing constantly and are possibly disconnected from what business actually needs to succeed in the fourth industrial revolution. They focus too much on academic outcomes and very little on practical work or measuring whether remuneration fits in with the expectations of the knowledge economy,” he says.

“How can we expect to fill the skills gap if we aren’t starting with the right base? MIP has implemented psychometric testing to bolster our ability to grade a candidate who may already have a university degree, because we have found that a degree doesn’t necessarily mean the person can actually code.”

Firth explains that as a result of the difficulty the company had in filling the internship posts in the past, it decided to change its approach. Previously, MIP would run a general advert for a post for an intern and get thousands of responses, and out of those thousands of applications, only a handful would qualify for the internship. In order to eliminate those individuals who do not have the prerequisite logic skills necessary to be a software engineer, and therefore to ensure they have the right caliber of person applying for the internship, the company came up with a five-step approach.

The first step in the phased approach is for the potential applicant to resolve a logic puzzle. By resolving the puzzle, they then get access to a website address that takes them to a game of logic that has 23 steps to it; with each of the 23 steps getting progressively harder to solve. The candidates are effectively writing a program by using game mechanics. Once the game is completed, the company measures the time taken and logic used to complete each of the steps. If the candidate has met certain criteria, the applicant’s contact details and a copy of a CV or areas of interest in technology is to be sent to a specific e-mail address.

Based on the successful solving of the puzzle and the e-mailed details, MIP does its own aptitude assessment. If the results of the internal aptitude assessment show promise, MIP sends those applicants for a third-party psychometric assessment. This purely tests logic ability, and those who pass this test are then interviewed for the first time to assess EQ. Once a participant has completed all of these phases, MIP then has a 96% success rate in training, mentoring and producing a successful software engineer. The successful candidate will receive a realistic salary from day one of the training to fund the candidate’s ability to pay for accommodation, transport, food and clothing.

“Our MIP graduate software engineers who pass the three months of training have a performance and salary review every three months. If they perform well, they can potentially earn an average of R20 000 after two years. The caveat here is, however, that we have had to add another month onto our three-month course purely to satisfy BBBEE and SAQA demands for MIP’s training course to be accredited. The extra expense and time involved in doing so does not add anything to the output or earning potential of our candidates,” Firth says.

“Without the addition of the accredited and mainly irrelevant training, we received zero BBBEE points for our programme, and yet I can guarantee that we have delivered more people to the local fourth industrial revolution, in a working role, with the right earnings potential, than any other tech course has where the candidate has been paid from day one. We have absorbed close to 250 candidates now and our course is 100% scalable and replicable.”

Firth adds that companies should be looking to grow and mentor people with the skills to fill the roles they need. However, trying to marry the demands of BBBEE, the department of labour and employing people who can do the work well is every organisation’s biggest challenge. “We understand that the YES (Youth Employment Service) has passed parliamentary muster and this may be the first good news for South African businesses wanting to grow youth employment, and actually being rewarded for it!”