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South Africa is at risk of a virtual brain drain [Opinion]

remote software developer brain drain south africa

There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation and put software developers high up on the hiring list but it has also put the shortage of great tech skills under the spotlight, as global remote work becomes commonplace, making it harder to keep up with demand.

It is up to corporate SA and software companies to retain top talent on our shores, with competitive offerings that go beyond a paycheck.

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Anyone who has tried to hire a developer in the last three years will have seen high salary asks with not much in return. Typically, that indicates a shortage of people with skills.

Yet the number of software developers doubles every five years, according to Robert C. Martin.

Surely an increase in developers will naturally lead to an increase in talented developers, even if the numbers aren’t proportional? The doubling dev population means that half of all developers at any given point have less than five years of experience. Talent is great but there is no replacement for experience.

COVID and remote work in South Africa

And then there is a reason that’s a little more complex: COVID.

The global brain drain has been an issue far before COVID with New Zealand, Australia, UK, and Canada becoming the most attractive destinations for talent relocation.

But post-COVID, with remote work now possible, technology companies all over the world have access to talent in South Africa at a marginally lower cost. Better yet, there is no administration burden (and cost) that comes with issuing permits, relocation, and the emotional tax that comes with being in a new foreign land.

Add the world-class tech skills in South Africa, good reputation for hard work and low language barrier and the local talent pool becomes even more desirable.

While global companies may offer more competitive remuneration opportunities, software companies and corporate SA have the ability to compete by offering more than a paycheck.

According to the Offerzen 2021 Developer Hiring Data Report, a lack of prospective growth is the number one reason junior and immediate developers reject job offers. Developers in the early years of their careers will focus on growth and mentorship over salary and it is vital to building diverse teams to ensure senior developers are mentoring those with less experience.

To ensure senior developers are incentivised to do so and deliver on their own projects, flexibility becomes key.  According to the report, senior developers (6+ years of experience) cite a lack of flexibility as their main reason for rejecting a job.

With 91% of responders in Offerzen’s Developer Remote Work Report more likely to choose a job with remote work benefits, the importance of remote work options that promote work-life balance has become key to talent retention.

I think of remuneration as an employer’s ticket to the game and that needs to be addressed upfront. But there are certainly other factors such as growth opportunities, work-life balance, culture, and a great tech stack that will put you among the top desirables places for highly skilled tech talent work.

Having hired our fair share of great talent (and lost a few members along the way), we have learned first-hand that what really sets a company apart is its ability to involve engineers in critical business decisions.

Good engineers want to know that they are working in a modern company – in terms of its thinking and the “respect” that is given to engineers.

It is important that engineers that support critical business processes are elevated and given a seat at the table.

After all, every business is a software business today, so if your business wishes to innovate and expand its offering, most likely these ideas will come from your engineering team.

This article was written by Wayne Zwiers, CEO and Founder at Basalt Technology

Read more: Expert tips for SMEs this tax season

Featured image: Christina Morillo/Pexels

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