High growth markets and a shortage of skills are creating exciting career opportunities in the continent.
If Anywhere today best typifies corporate giant McKinsey’s notable term ‘the war for talent’, it has to be Africa.
Where colonial powers once scrambled for territory, governments and companies operating in Africa now battle it out to attract the best talent to staff their ministries and run their operations.
“The greatest problem facing African businesses today is the immense difficulty of attracting sufficient talent,” says Elijah Litheko, the CEO of South Africa’s Institute of Personnel Management.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s urgent need for skills and expertise comes at a time when a growing number of African professionals abroad are returning home to further their career ambitions and contribute to its development.
When London-born Elvina Quaison decided to move to Ghana three years ago, it followed a period of increasing engagement with Africa while working for UK-based charity AFFORD.
“Having gone back and forth to Africa in my work and with a personal interest in Ghana, my country of heritage, I could see an exciting gap for people like me with a desire to contribute to their countries of origin or to Africa in general. Also, going somewhere where your skills are regarded positively was a strong draw for me.”
Speaking at Speed Meet Africa, a recent careers forum held in New York by recruitment firm Homecoming Revolution where top brands including Thomson Reuters, Deloitte and CSCS Plc addressed the audience, Shaori Ajodha, Talent Acquisition Recruitment Leader at Deloitte, echoed these sentiments. “There are endless opportunities to make an impact that matters in Africa.”
PROFESSIONALSIndustries in search of talent in Africa include oil and gas, banking and finance, ICT and telecommunications, as well as agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, retail, education, tourism, professional services and many more.
Companies like Deloitte are actively pursuing strategies to attract and engage the kinds of skills that African professionals living abroad often bring to the table.
These so-called ‘Afropolitans’ live in the global capitals of the West, have experience of working in developed markets, have acquired technical skills and exposure to professional working practices and global standards of excellence, display a cultural dexterity enabling them to move fluidly between their home and host countries, and possess multilingual skills seen as invaluable to organisations such as science and technology company Merck.
With employees across ten African countries including South Africa – from where the company steers business in South-East Africa including Kenya, Angola and Mozambique – CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley recently announced the opening of new offices in Nigeria and plans “to more than double our workforce in Africa by 2020”.
LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES: Acha Leke, Kyari Bukar and Alex Okosi are among the thousands of talented African professionals who attended the Speed Meet Africa event organised by with Homecoming Revolution’s Angel Jones (far right)
With 54 countries, the sheer size of Africa creates a market of over one billion people with a rapidly growing middle-class offering an unparalleled consumer market. Notwithstanding the impact of plummeting crude oil prices over the past year on Africa’s oil exporters, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts 4 per cent growth for Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, in 2015. Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Tanzania are still expected to register growth of about 7 per cent or above, and the IMF has projected that growth for the region overall will pick up in 2016 to 4.3 per cent. Ethiopia, once the poster child for poverty in Africa, is now the fastest growing non-oil African economy and one of the fastest-growing in the world, with annual average GDP growth of 11 per cent for the past decade.
MISMATCHDespite ongoing concerns about their economic environment, CEOs in Africa remain confident about the prospects for economic growth as the continent continues to outperform other regions of the world. Over 66 per cent of CEOs surveyed in 2015 for the YPO Global Pulse Sales Index for Africa expected to see increased revenues in 2016. China, Africa’s single biggest investor, recently spent $50 billion on industrialisation projects on the continent.
However the demand for management and professionally skilled talent sits uneasily with rife unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa where, according to the World Bank, young people account for 60 per cent of those unemployed.
One reason for this is the failure of education systems to properly equip school leavers and graduates to meet the needs of industry, leading to what the Brookings Institution, a US public policy organisation, reports as a “mismatch between the skills of young [African] workers and those needed by employers”.
For example, tertiary engineering education in many sub-Saharan countries has not received the investment needed to keep pace with the developed world. In a survey of 113 professional engineers from 18 African countries, 40 per cent stated that engineering education in their country did not provide graduates with the skills required.
This all presents Africans abroad with enormous opportunities. Africa’s economic growth requires skilled individuals who not only possess technical expertise, but also come with an understanding of local cultures and languages.
The growing trend of returnees discouraged by glass ceilings and stagnant job markets in the West voluntarily moving to Africa is welcomed by companies struggling to attract the right specialist skills. “Before, we were begging people to come home and make a difference” says Acha Leke, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Co. Africa, one of the keynote speakers at Speed Meet Africa. “Now that is changing.”
However Quaison is quick to sound a cautious note for those tempted to perceive themselves as Africa’s newest saviours.
“While our skills and experiences offer a great deal, we also have much to understand about the culture, because Africa is a whole new world” she says. “To fully integrate, you need to check your ego and be willing to learn from those around you.”
CHALLENGESA belief in the potential of the continent is mandatory for returnees and Africa will only thrive if Africans support and believe in it, says branding and reputation architect, Thebe Ikalafeng. “When you see challenges in Africa, you should take it as an opportunity. Come back to Africa because it has a future.”
Alex Okosi, Senior VP and Managing Director of Viacom Africa, who was also at the forum, said Africans abroad are missing out on an incredibly exciting time for the continent. “I encourage you to all think about your African journey. You can all take us to the next phase of the African renaissance.”
Returning home is not just an emotional imperative or a strategic career choice; employers in Africa also frame it as simply the right thing to do.
As Acha Leke told the US-based African professionals at the Speed Meet Africa event: “You are missing out if you aren’t on the continent right now. You have seen all the statistics; if we don’t change things, who will? My message is simple – come home. You will look back one day and question why you didn’t.”
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