Africa lacks the managers needed to turn its potential into reality

Africa is considerably lacking high quality managers with the skills and competence to capitalise on the continent’s economic potential. The African Management Initiative (AMI), an organisation with the aim to strengthen management capacity in Africa, recently released a report that looks at the managerial gap in Africa and how it can be solved.

Africa’s managerial need

“Although skills development is needed across the board, managerial skills need special focus given that institutional management is the cornerstone of any successful modern economy,” says the report. “High quality managerial skills will be key to driving Africa’s competitiveness.”

In order to close the economic gap between the poor masses and the few wealthy, the continent needs good managers who can build successful companies that create jobs and drive development. Yet the senior executives and organisation development managers surveyed in the report all indicated that finding competent managers in Africa was a major challenge or limitation for successful business.

“If we take the widely accepted management to worker ratio of 1:10 and use the International Labour Organisation’s figure of 111 million wage collecting labour force, we can estimate that the continent probably has about 11 million people in managerial/supervisory roles,” states the AMI report. “Our research tells us that most of these people are inadequately trained and prepared for this responsibility. Any attempt to substantially improve the quality of management in Africa will therefore have to reach one in ten of those managers: over 1 million managers.”

For large multinationals and pan-African companies that are trying to sustain fast growth, the shortage of adequate managerial skills means that they have to import their managers from overseas. “When they do invest in developing local people, they are too often poached,” adds the report.

For SMEs and entrepreneurs trying to grow their businesses, the struggle is to find and attract the right skills to help them do this and they often end up having to do everything themselves.

According to the research, the NGOs surveyed “cite a lack of human capacity as one of the top constraints for expanding their impact, and say they struggle to meet donor demands for professionalism”.

Investors find that a shortage of competent management constrains deal flows as finance needs to be accompanied by adequate managerial support.

What employers are looking for

So what type of skills do good managers need? The research shows that employers are looking for the following:

Personal drive – Employers need managers with initiative, personal drive and who are results orientated. “Too often, managers fail to take personal responsibility for delivering results and wait to be told what to do,” says the report. “Any new intervention will need a strong focus on attitude and personal development.”

Planning skills – Managers frequently lack project management skills. “Several respondents said that a high-quality, practical project management and work readiness course could be the single most immediately useful intervention,” suggests the report.

Ethics and integrity – A major managerial challenge for organisations in all stakeholder groups is finding resourceful, honest employees with a strong sense of personal ethics. “Educators felt that ethics should be integrated into programmes and courses, rather than taught as a stand-alone subject,” according to the research.

Critical thinking skills – Respondents said that many managers still require the necessary problem-solving skills, and some lack strategic thinking. “Several respondents noted that improved analytic and decision-making skills would enable managers to display greater initiative.”

Practical experience – Along with needing practical experience, African managers often lack basic work readiness skills (such as the ability to work in a team) and struggle to translate management theory into practice. “More practical programmes, action learning, inter-country exchanges and a greater emphasis on internships, placements and work readiness skills could help address this problem,” states the report.

Flexibility – “African economies need a special kind of manager – one who is comfortable with the complexity and (sometimes) chaos of dynamic markets,” says the research. This need for ‘entrepreneurial thinking’ or ‘flexibility and agile decision-making’ can be cultivated by integrating more action learning and locally relevant material into course programmes.

Africa has a shortage of business schools/universities providing MBAs and executive level training, and this is one of the issues that AMI is trying to address. Currently there are only 90 of these schools/universities which equates to about one school for every 11.2 million people. “Only nine of these meet up to international standards – less than 1% of the world’s 950 internationally accredited business schools,” according to the research.

The report highlights that these schools are distributed unevenly across the continent, with the top schools mostly in South and North Africa while West Africa is “grossly under-represented” and Central Africa has “no representation at all”.