We created Critical Thinker to solve one of ICT’s biggest challenges

Operations   |    Jul 13, 2022    |    by Priaya Naidoo

We created Critical Thinker to solve one of ICT’s biggest challenges

Critical Thinker equips people with the practical skills they need

“As part of the global NEC team, we talk about orchestrating a brighter future, but what does that mean? How does that impact our people and our customers? And what are we doing at ground level to bring it to life, not just for the challenges we all face today, but in how we deal with the challenges we face going forward? That’s why we developed Critical Thinker.”

PRIYA NAIDOO is GM of HR at NEC XON. She has perhaps one of the toughest jobs for an ICT systems integrator with a growing team of innovative solution providers expanding across Africa today: building and sustaining a growing talent pool from increasingly scarce resources.

“The world needs an extra 3 million cyber security experts right now,” she says, “and it’s a growing problem. Admittedly, cyber security faces among the most severe skills constraints in ICT, but it is only one of our 10 market-facing business units. ICT skills, particularly for a systems integrator developing uniquely African solutions using the world’s top OEM technologies, are in very limited supply worldwide. So, while we already attract some of the continent’s top talent, we also need to look to creating sustainable futures.”

Creative collaboration

Critical Thinker is the result of executive collaboration across NEC XON’s lines of business. Together, they developed a roadmap to tap new talent, include young professionals, and establish career paths charged with managerial coaching and mentors.

“It’s ironic that countries with deep unemployment challenges, particularly among the youth, face a shortage of skills,” she says. “But it’s a common challenge for young people worldwide: graduates need to work but companies want experienced employees. Somehow, we must bridge the gap so we can help individual people, help our society with its unique problems, and help our customers move beyond their challenges.”

“Stats SA says more than 42% of South Africans between 25 and 34 are unemployed,” she says. “That’s the typical age group of an engineering-related graduate, who are the people we encourage to join Critical Thinkers from university.”

Nurturing tomorrow’s leaders today

Critical Thinker navigates the challenge by bringing university graduates into a structured programme that equips them with practical skills to complement their education. For 10 months, they are trained, coached, and mentored across various business units. This approach not only exposes them to a wide variety of business and technical experience, but it also gives them the foundation to make informed decisions about where they later choose to focus their skills.

“These graduates are more than a pool of talent who put their skills to work for our customers,” says Priya. “They are the future leaders of our business and the industry; they are our future customers and decision makers. It’s important that we focus on our challenges today, the skills shortage and unemployment. But it’s equally important that we focus on sustainable futures and developing leaders who can make a difference going forward.”

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