Africa’s Got Talent, In conversation with Aisha Jallow

November 19, 2021
Borderless Leadership - article

Click play for the full discussion with Aisha Jallow

Africa is a dynamic and booming continent that international organizations cannot afford to ignore. The size of the opportunity and the region that Africa represents is huge. The region has a population of 1.2 billion people, which is almost as large as India. It has a fast-growing market, both in terms of population and economic growth. Furthermore, the population is becoming rapidly more educated, and 50% of the population is under the age of 25. So, in Africa, there is a young, agile, eager workforce.

However, international organizations have failed to attract and retain this talent, because historically, international organizations operating in Africa have argued that Africa’s underperformance in education is a deterrent. But things have changed.

Now, Africa is experiencing a “brain drain,” because more than 10% of Africa’s university-educated professionals have moved abroad to work on other continents. A recent survey, for example, found that 31% of companies in South Africa say they have challenges filling top jobs, despite a national unemployment rate exceeding 25%.

Poor recruitment practices in Africa stem from preconceived ideas about what recruiting processes should look like and the unchanged poor practices that have been used for years. This comes down to five core reasons, starting with the lack of strategic intent to hire local leadership talent. Of course, we see some companies trying to improve.

In the past, companies have relied on expatriate hires to staff leadership functions, creating a self-sustaining system. But this is beginning to change; in today’s economic climate, hiring expatriates is rarely the best answer since expatriates are hugely expensive, by a factor of 4! 

A third point is how companies are adopting a reactive approach, rather than proactively evaluating their local talent pools. Companies have been reluctant to hire bright, educated individuals that have a burning hunger to develop. Companies are looking for people that already fit the job description, rather than investing in developing future talent.

Companies looking for talented people in Africa should search for people who are ambitious to work hard, learn, grow, and progress. Search for the right attitude and positive behaviours, rather than perfection. Of course, this applies everywhere, but it’s especially important for Africa.

So, in the spirit of progress, not perfection, I advise companies to embed the following steps in their recruitment strategy across the region: invest in building your local pipeline in your country of operation. A good place to start is to develop leaders in-house and encourage greater mobility between different functions.

Secondly, develop relationships with universities, and encourage up and coming young talent. Create internship programs, for instance. Speak at events in educational institutions. Make it a point to position your brand and show the community you’re serious about developing people for important roles. Show your face, be present. As everywhere today, many younger people in Africa are driven by values. Show your company cares about driving diversity and sustainability agendas.

It’s also important to develop a compelling, differentiated brand for your organization. Make sure that your actions set you apart from other organizations and show young professionals why they should work for you. Keep them abreast of your company’s activities in their country through social media and other communication channels and create local employee referral programs. 

If you want to be ahead of the curve as an international company, you must recognize and accept that Sub-Saharan Africa has an enormous pool of educated, able talent that is determined to prove itself. Invest in developing people, because you can be confident that ‘eager-to-learn’ people will grow and sustain your Africa business in the future. Create a robust people development plan to grow your talent from within. For example, bring people to your headquarters for short term assignments prior to re-assigning individuals into key roles in the Africa region.

Harness the power of inclusion. African countries, such as Nigeria, have a vast, unexploited pool of highly educated women. Take the opportunity to boost women’s participation and advancement at work, expand your talent pool, and introduce more women at the leadership level to broaden your company’s perspective. Make sure you take advantage of the opportunity to strengthen your company’s reputation by setting the right example through your recruitment activities in Africa.

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