By Emile Biagio, CTO, Sintrex
In his state-of-the-nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa challenged South Africans to buy locally-made products, in order to boost the ailing local economy and create jobs.
That’s such a simple and logical statement – but how many South Africans truly understand the positive impact of buying local?
15 million South Africans are unemployed. So, how is it that businesses can’t find the “right” people?
Some candidates are highly skilled and costly to employ. Some are not educated or not educated enough. Some have the wrong qualifications and others lack experience.
Businesses look for experienced, qualified candidates that suit their budgets. It is unfortunate and all too common that some fit the right educational requirements but lack real-life experience. Ask any graduate or employing manager.
It’s a frustrating reality for both parties involved.
Like most other IT companies globally, we as Sintrex also faced a “skills shortage problem”, despite there being no shortage of applications for vacant positions. Most local IT companies look for internationally certified skills because most sell international products like Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, etc.
International products are imported, freight/import duties are paid, mark-ups are added and products are sold (hopefully with local services) to the end client. Once all invoices are paid, guess where the lion’s share of product revenue ends up? Yup, with the international manufacturer! A small percentage is held by the distributor (importer) and a fraction held by the reseller (usually between 15% and 40%).
I’m not saying that this is taboo, that’s the nature of the game and it is how most local IT shops sustain their businesses. Many specialise and ensure that they are the market experts and “go to” companies for certain products and associated skills. Companies create jobs by importing products too.
But what if we could sell a local product as a local IT company? So that the lion’s share of the revenue would remain local? Yes! What would we do with that revenue? Well, someone has to create, support, sell, service and market the products – resulting in job creation! Just like President Ramaphosa said… But wait, now we have to go back into the loop of finding the right skills?! This stuff’s not easy, hey?
Luckily for us, we faced this problem a few years back already… Because we have local products, it was imperative that we develop a solution to employing the right skills for our business. Without a conscious decision to find a solution to this problem, we would have been unable to realise the growth that we were targeting. (Besides targeting the market share in our speciality).
How we solved our skills shortage problem
The solution was actually quite simple. We looked at our unemployed youth, many of whom have high school qualifications, or even a tertiary qualification – but no experience. We developed an internship programme that employs 90% of our interns after their full term.
We teach our interns the IT foundations that we require for our business and eventually make them experts on our products and services. They gain practical experience on production systems, interact with our clients and shadow our employees for on-the-job training.
So more than half (53%) of our staff complement are Sintrex Intern graduates. Of these, 12% are Engineers, 10% are Developers, 4% are Solutions Specialists, 2% are QA Analysts, 2% are Managers and the rest are operators. (Feb 2019 Statistics)
Truthfully: we’re proud of the jobs that we’ve created, we’re proud of that fact that we have local products and services that can compete with international equivalents, we’re proud of having supporting clients – and most of all, we’re proud of our interns and the staff that mentor them!
Buy local, South Africans! You are creating sustainable careers for our youth!