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Real-World IT Qualifications

Emulating India in search of better business alignment in universities.

Wesley Lynch

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For many years the ICT skills shortage has confounded the industry, media, tech academies and government. With no clear progress in resolving it, IT departments continue having to over-outsource or pay exorbitant rates to obtain critical skills.

Skills represent such an enormous problem that it’s difficult to get one’s head around it or imagine how so many interests could possibly work in concert to overcome it.

However, one quick win to be had is if universities revised their curricula and stopped producing computer science graduates who have little knowledge and experience of real-world issues and requirements of ICT.

Meaningful or pointless?

How meaningful is the computer science qualification taught at your university?

To a certain degree, old technologies like Cobol are being taught at some universities without proper regard for their real-world everyday use, simply because there is a resident expert on-board.

Instead, more relevant technologies and skills, such as mobile and cloud computing, should receive more exposure and the needs of South Africa and the continent should be considered.

Besides the content of a degree, there is also its effectiveness. Universities should do honest soul-searching about the success rate of their graduates in finding employment, asking themselves how many find jobs, what positions are open to them and what extra professional qualifications they need to attain to be employed.

Without providing answers now, it is enough to note that these and other pragmatic questions aimed at bridging the gap between academia and business ought to be what drives curricula. Not tradition and certainly not the ready availability of in-house expertise.

Towards business-academia integration

A recent visit to India revealed an impressive degree of integration between tech companies and universities.

Universities must network with business

To begin with, we witnessed a truly striking turnout of Master students and even professors at a high-level (business-focused) global conference. What’s more, their seats weren’t sponsored – their universities had sent them.

In South Africa, this sort of thing doesn’t happen. It may be a cost issue, but the opportunity to network with businesses is priceless. Academics must pick the best opportunities and seize their chance to align their objectives with real-world issues.

Universities must feed business with innovation

Many national software companies in India are so hungry for innovation that they will locate themselves in close proximity to universities, research and development facilities and associated recruitment firms. Faculty members, in turn, often have automatic access to R&D labs, and R&D staff often lecture at universities.

The integration is so tight that students can graduate on one end of the street and walk across to the other, fully skilled to be productive in a position in industry or R&D.

In South Africa, this degree of partnership is unheard of. Some might counter that South Africa’s IT industry is mostly reseller-focused, but there is much innovation on home soil that can be fostered with stronger links to more receptive universities.

The price of insularity

Universities are ultimately responsible for delivering great education that serves the needs of the nation – and they’re rewarded every year with a quality intake; a self-reinforcing value proposition.

A parochial mindset when undertaking curriculum design and an overly strict focus on cost containment will place severe restrictions on their ability to deliver value, ultimately working to their detriment.

Given universities’ responsibility to help redress social imbalances and the pent-up demand for education (leading to an over-supply of applicants), real-world skills are even more vital in a university’s armoury.

The problem touches students too. On realising their disadvantage, many seek internships to gain experience. The temptation for universities might be to gratefully rely on such pressure valves, but the interns should be debriefed and the lessons fed into universities’ curriculum design.

Business suffers too. The scarcity of sought-after skills drives up the cost of those skills. This poses a threat also to the economy – the number of university students starting businesses in South Africa is comparatively low, given the salaries they command in the corporate environment thanks to this unhealthy situation.

With many more start-ups per graduating class by comparison, India has been able to build an industry rich in intellectual property, consequently attracting a great amount of off-shore business process outsourcing.

Focus

Better collaboration with business would allow universities to place the right amount of focus on the right areas needed in the market, thus benefiting themselves, students, the industry and the economy.

Wesley Lynch is the founder and CEO of Realmdigital, a top South African e-business strategy and technology partner, specialising in Web, Social and Mobile platforms. As a technology entrepreneur, Wesley has over a decade of experience in the financial, business and software development industries. He is also the co-founder of MyTrueSpark which sees him regularly consulting with start-ups, Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors. Wesley has recently been recognised in the Old Mutual Entrepreneurship Guide as one of the 38 emerging South African tech entrepreneurs to watch.

Ongoing Learning

15 Of The Best And Most Unusual Online Courses For Entrepreneurs

Improve your outlook, boost your marketability and get a leg up on trends with these digital lesson sessions.

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Real-world experience is the world’s best teacher, but there’s a wealth of knowledge online to help teach ourselves what we don’t have the opportunity to learn from a mentor or navigating life itself. With the help of online courses, we can apply some structured guidance to how we approach our interpersonal interactions, entrepreneurial pursuits and even the way we think. These hyper-focused, organised lesson plans can help us hit refresh and streamline our paths to success.

The following list of online courses covers a range of subjects, some but not all of which have a direct tie to running a business. From AI to VR to happiness to time management, entrepreneurs need to master a wide range of skills.

Most of the courses below come at an cost (often low), though some offer free temporary access to videos and other materials. Read on for an overview of 15 of the best courses out there for entrepreneurs who are lifelong learners.

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Ongoing Learning

6 Free Courses That Can Help You Become A Successful Entrepreneur

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

Amy Galbraith

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Becoming a successful entrepreneur is something that takes a lot of hard work and requires unique skills. However, it can be difficult to achieve this if you are unsure of where to start in building your career as an entrepreneur. You should look into taking courses from skills development companies that can help to develop your entrepreneurial skills and other qualities.

Outlined below are some of these courses you can take that will help you to become a more successful entrepreneur.

  1. Finance and accounting
  2. Business management
  3. Marketing
  4. Business writing
  5. Time management
  6. IT courses
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Ongoing Learning

Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.

Allon Raiz

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I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.

The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.

I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.

All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.

So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?

1. Opens your mind to new concepts

We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.

2. Reinforces old concepts

We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.

Related: Why You Should Be Reading More Fiction And Watching Less News

3. Apply what works for you right now

The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.

4. Cheap learning curve

It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.

5. Great way to connect

Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.

Pulling it all together

Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.

“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”

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