Simeka Business Group sponsors CIO academic breakfast forum

Simeka Business Group, "Simeka", a BEE company, listed on the JSE, and a front runner in the ICT sector, recognises the crucial need in South Africa to address the skills shortage in the ICT sector.

In this regard, Simeka Business Group is sponsoring a monthly CIO Breakfast Forum hosted by universities in the Western Cape.

Event organiser, Roderick Lim Banda of the Department of Information Systems in the University of the Western Cape (UWC), stated that the event was intended to provide a forum for chief information officers (CIO) and academics to engage directly with each other and discuss relevant issues such as the development of ICT skills.

The breakfast forum is being launched in February and March with the first having focused on academics from the four universities in the Western Cape. CIOs from local enterprises met with deans, heads of department and academics from the University of the Western Cape, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Cape Town and the University of Stellenbosch.

Each university will take a turn hosting the event from their respective campus venues as well as cafes around the Cape Peninsula. Government representatives from the Department of Education and the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) as well as representatives from industry also attended the February breakfast forum.

The concept of a monthly breakfast for academics and CIOs to discuss relevant issues and to share in common initiatives then developed. In discussions with academics and CIOs it was evident that there was support for such an event and more importantly that on-going conversations between these important role players needed to take place.

Prof Tapscott, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Science at UWC, acknowledged the need for closer engagement between academia and industry particularly in the field of information systems. Prof Cronje, Dean of the School of Information and Design at CPUT, explained the different backgrounds and focus of the four universities and why it was important for universities to collaborate. Representatives from Simeka, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft expressed their support for the event and willingness to work together to develop ICT skills in the Western Cape.

The format of the breakfast forum is a conversation modelled on the concept of Cafe Conversations and the topic of the February forum was "ICT Skills Development - the Role of Universities and Employers". Andre de la Harpe of CPUT chaired the conversations and discussions which were conducted in smaller table conversations and the larger group. A number of issues were discussed and it was decided that the next conversation needed to focus on the importance of reviewing internship and graduate programmes as well as the broader structures for engaging stakeholders.

Universities are under pressure to produce graduates with both business and IT skills. It is clear that universities are impacted by the quality of students leaving the school system and the lack of well-structured graduate and internship programmes in companies. Along with the growing complexity and demand in business and technology, there is a need for individual professionals to share their time and experience through mentorship programmes, teaching and research. Prof Cronje issued a challenge to individuals and corporates to become "parents", taking personal interest and being involved in ensuring the success of students. Prof Kyobe of UCT felt that this level of engagement is imperative for universities to produce successful graduates.

He stated that industry needs to work with universities to align the contents of IS programmes and that sponsorship for IS students (ie, bursaries, projects, etc) is needed as well as transfer of knowledge from universities to industry (ie, making use of research findings - publications).

Participants commented on how encouraged they were to see the commitment and collaboration between traditionally competitive organisations in both academia and industry. Mr Mabizela, the Director for Higher Education Policy in the Department of Education, expressed his support for the forum and the value for government to get feedback and input directly from such conversations. March will see the official launch to the CIOs in the Western Cape. Based on acceptance to invitations, the forum is expected to grow in the coming year.

The intention is to keep the format informal to allow for meaningful conversations directly between individual academics and CIOs. It is important that influential employers are able to engage on a person-to-person level with members of our academic community who are tasked with increasing knowledge and produce capable graduates and professionals.

Suren Singh, CFO of Simeka Business Group, expressed the company's commitment in ensuring the support and success of the forum.