September 16 2013 Mohamed ZIN EL ABIDINE
Investment Research

Africa: the continent that is retracting its talents

Once famous only for its abundant natural resources, Africa is gradually becoming a growing pool of qualified human resources. From the African diaspora looking to come back to seize opportunities in home countries to locally educated talent, the continent is now offering recruiters a bigger pool to choose from. Needless to say, this hasn’t always been the case: decades of political conflicts and failing economic policies have led to a continuous drain of Africa’s talent towards more stable and growing parts of the world. This post will address talent sourcing issues in Africa and assess the current switch that the continent is witnessing, from a talent exporter to a talent importer.

Up until last decade, Africa was the least favorite destination for any college graduate or working professional, including for locals: opportunities were limited, countries were unstable and the growth potential seemed, for the most part, uncertain. To fill mid to senior management positions, businesses operating in Africa have long relied on hefty relocation packages to attract expatriates. Local talent is often times deemed not qualified enough and those with international education or professional backgrounds had little interest to return. In addition, African economies were too small to be talent attractive; up until 2008, the aggregate GDP of the 50 plus African countries was less than that of Brazil or Russia.

In the 2000s, a different economic reality started to take shape in Africa: increased stability in some key countries allowed a better exploitation of natural resources; the rising prices of these resources during this decade was an essential fuel to this growth: Oil prices bordered 100$/barrel by 2010 up from their below 30$/barrel average at the beginning of the decade. This did not only take Africa above the “poverty” line as a continent, but it had also a positive impact on the development of various sectors including FMCG, Telecommunications, Real Estate, and Manufacturing.  The employment boom that Africa witnessed in parallel led to the developments of a new talent friendly environment across the main economic hubs of Africa.

To assess the talent sourcing problematic for one of its clients in Africa, Infomineo reached out to various stakeholders, including diaspora organizations, recruitment firms and leading business schools in Europe, the US, and Africa. Evidently, the importance of the diaspora came back frequently when discussing with the sector experts: recruitment firms say that they allocate, on average, two-thirds of their recruitment efforts on diaspora networks; this comes as good news for the diaspora itself as many of its members are keen and willing to return. Interestingly, diaspora members are not only interested in coming back to their home countries, but they are willing to consider opportunities in other African countries as well.

An important thing to consider when assessing talent sourcing in Africa is the considerable diversity of its countries and people. Each region has its own specific characteristics in terms of talent attractiveness. South Africa, for instance, has long been Africa’s outlier with its developed economy and the outstanding quality of its education. North Africa, to some extent, also suffers less from talent shortages due to its historical proximity and economic ties with Europe, but what is happening in countries such as Angola, Nigeria, and other central African countries is what is really drawing the interest of recruitment firms to set up shop in Africa. These countries have doubled their GDPs at least two folds during the last decade and this had a positive net impact on their talent attractiveness. It will be interesting now to witness what qualified human resources and natural resources can do to the growth of a continent that, for a long time, was lagging behind the others.

 Mohamed ZIN EL ABIDINE, Associate, Infomineo.

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