Where’s the talent?

Conversations with business leaders from a number of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) countries revealed that recruiting and retaining talent is one of the most important challenges they face – if not the most important. The 2017 African business outlook survey confirmed that this experience is generalized. How do companies cope with this challenge?

  • Recruiting talent: digital channels have become increasingly popular for recruitment in the last few years. Three years ago, social media was already among the Top-10 most used channels to source talent, according to a report by EY. Yet, headhunters, recruitment agencies, company websites and staff referrals were still the most used recruitment methods in SSA. About one third of the companies use alumni networks in their recruiting strategy. This figure is likely to go up with the large increase in university enrollment in the region. Higher education students went up from 2.3 to 6.6 million between 1999 and 2013, according to ICEF Monitor. This represents a large and rich source of networks to the benefit of both companies and employees.
During graduation ceremony at Strathmore University, Nairobi, Kenya
During graduation ceremony at Strathmore University, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Retaining talent: more than 10% of Africa’s highly educated professionals live and work in other continents – the African diaspora, as it’s commonly called. To end with such a “brain drain”, McKinsey’s report Lions on the Move II advises companies to develop their management team through localization, training, and integration. It also recommends shaping vocational training programs to create a front-line skills base at scale.
  • Balancing local and expatriate staff: the proportions between local and foreign personnel vary among firms: some are skewed towards expatriates while other shy away from this practice. For instance, TransUnion’s Africa Region CEO Grant Philips comments: “We don’t have any expatriates. We don’t think it works. (…) I find that local teams on the ground, which are able to connect with local networks, are very effective. We don’t parachute in senior managers for day-to-day management.”

A recurrent idea in this blog is that it takes local management to succeed in Africa. Not only are expats more expensive but also – and more importantly – they are less tuned to the local environment. Investing in the human capital of employees will pay off, and this needs to be considered when making hiring decisions.

Any experience recruiting or retaining talent in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Nadim Elayan, Research Assistant at IESE Business School, collaborated in this article.

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4 thoughts on “Where’s the talent?

  1. I don’t understand this party ” A recurrent idea in this blog is that it takes local management to succeed in Africa. Not only are expats more expensive but also – and more importantly – they are less tuned to the local environment. Investing in the human capital of employees will pay off, and this needs to be considered when making hiring decisions.” ?

    1. We refer to the research that shows that expats are more likely to stay shorter in the firms than locals. Investing in human capital has greater returns for the firms if the workers can implement what they have learned in the very same company instead of abroad.

  2. In Sweden, where I live, we have had a lot of immigrants coming the last few years. Some (although not that many) argue we in fact are draining those countries in terms of “brains”. The majority is from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria, all of which need their “talent” to build or re-build their countries. Whats your take on it?

    1. I personally think that the solution of this “brain drain” should not come from the OECD countries but instead from these same developing nations. A crucial step is to create the right incentives in terms of institutions, such as govern credibility, law and property enforcement, better democratic accountability mechanisms… in order to make more attractive the scenario of staying in the home country or returning eventually after having gained some valuable knowledge and experience. Besides, physical distance is less binding now with the level of technology available. This means that, a Somalian worker living in Sweden might still be able to contribute to Somalian development, through ideas and easily communicate and implement them anywhere.

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