Local software developers are lacking in talent and innovation, stoking a high level of dissatisfaction among companies that employ them or use their products. A severe lack of innovation and inadequate support are the main gripes expressed by corporate customers, academics and government buyers, according to a survey for the Cape IT Initiative (Citi). The study shows that end users are becoming increasingly disheartened by the lack of innovation in today's software graduates.

Companies also complain that the staff they hire become intellectually lazy after being recruited, forcing them to question whether SA's training institutes are preparing students to compete in an aggressive international market, says Citi's executive director, Viola Manuel.

Large and small software companies alike are also frustrated by a lack of government intervention to grow and develop the software engineering sector. Although this is a richly innovative country, Manuel says action must be taken soon if it is to remain that way.

The survey will help to shape the agenda for a software engineering colloquium to be held in Cape Town on May 8. The findings will be discussed, and participants will be asked to come up with workable solutions. Their suggestions will be presented to the government and other stakeholders.

"This will not be a finger-pointing exercise, but rather an opportunity for the government to hear first-hand from industry what needs to be done to protect our industry from the growing intellectual malaise that it is falling into," Manuel said. "We wanted to hear from those most affected, and come up with an agenda that would find solutions."

Complaints about a lack of programming skills confirm a need for initiatives that let software development students gain work experience during their studies, says Pierre van der Merwe, an applications manager at Fujitsu.

"The problem that most new developers complain about is not being able to get work without on-site experience," he says. "The government also needs to give a larger number of schoolchildren the opportunity, or access to equipment, to start experimenting at a young age. Unless we get our youth involved and interested, we may run out of skilled resources due to the demand and rate of growth in the IT industry."

Van der Merwe believes SA can compete well abroad and export more software because its quality can be high. "The current interest in software development as a career at postgraduate level compared to past years is fairly high," he says. That was matched by a growing demand for postgraduates' services, albeit mainly for more specialised developers.

Companies also need to do more training themselves, he says. "As IT is the way of the future, there needs to be more emphasis on software development at schools and more graduate intake programmes in larger companies."

Business Day

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