With Africa’s employment transforming, it’s time to develop local managers
By Yariv Cohen. Published on The New Times
In the past decade, Africa has been developing at an unprecedented pace. Major conglomerates entered the local market, cell phone use and internet connectivity are rapidly rising, new businesses are constantly launching, and more women are entering the workforce daily.
Those massive changes are transforming the local employment sphere, creating millions of new job opportunities and enabling business and economic prosperity. But alongside these developments, Africa is still lacking many local managers and high-ranking executives, hindering the prosperity and success of many initiatives.
An ever-changing working environment
Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s youngest region, with over 605 million people of its population under the age of 25. This is the main reason for the expected rise in the continent’s working-age population, set to increase from 705 million in 2018 to over 1 billion people by 2030, pushing the continent’s working population up by 40% (according to the African Development Bank).
The hundreds of millions joining the workforce in the coming decade will be entering a very different environment than their predecessors, as technology and automation will require new-world skills. This reality creates a massive challenge for the management level, required to train and mentor the new generation of employees while scaling their businesses. Those managers will also need to think (and act) globally, collaborating with global giants who are seeking to enter the continent.
This reality gives local managers a key role in Africa’s development. In order to achieve prosperity across the continent and make sure that the hundreds of millions entering the workforce will actually be able to find a job, the issue of local management has to be a top priority. This was also highlighted by in-depth research conducted by The African Management Institute, which found that the lack of competent managers is setting Africa back in every private and public sector, as was noted by NGOs, entrepreneurs, SMEs, educators, investors, government officials, and large conglomerates.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey, African education quality and ability to meet the needs of a competitive economy remain a major concern. Local university graduates rank significantly below the global average, strongly suggesting they are not acquiring the knowledge and skills required to take their businesses and the entire continent to the next level.
In order to fill this gap, over 2500 African students start their business studies in leading universities abroad every year. But even if this number was enough for the continents’ needs (which isn’t the case), studying abroad creates many problems. First, extremely high-costs leaves this option open for people of means, or for those who win very specific scholarships. Many of those who are fortunate enough to get the opportunity for elite education, choose to stay abroad and work for higher salaries than they would receive back home. Finally, business studies abroad are very focused on the western market’s challenges and characteristics, which are often less relevant to Africa.
Looking at China, we can gain some much-needed inspiration. The country was facing similar challenges back in the early 2000s when I was running my company there. Back then most senior executives were foreigners, and not enough home-grown talent. Within a decade, the Chinese executive-level workforce has matured so quickly, their productivity increase, and with it, they had the majority level on all executive positions in my company and many of our peers.
To ensure that the millions of new workers reach their full potential and the continent’s development does not yield, businesses across sectors need proper, high-quality local management that will lead employees and operations to prosper. After working across Africa and investing in various sectors for the past decade, I can safely say that it is not a question of human capital, but of what access does local talent has to meaningful learning experiences.
It is time for the private sector to contribute our part and offer suitable and advanced training programs, tailor-made for specific market needs. With this in mind, Ignite Power is launching Ignite Leadership Academy, a unique executive program focused on training talented local managers, providing them with the needed toolbox for doing their job in the best way possible, and lead Africa into a prospering economic future.