Why talent is a major concern for African CEOs

African companies have to fork out more and more money to attract and retain high-quality professionals. According to a new report by professional services firm PwC, over 50% of African CEOs say that talent-related expenses have increased more than anticipated over the past year.

Philip Odera, managing director of Stanbic Bank Uganda, looks to attract talented Ugandans in the diaspora.

“Because there is such a scarcity of labour in the market, you find that salaries are higher than they should be,” explains Bernice Kimacia, country senior partner for PwC in Rwanda.

In addition to attractive salaries, employers also need to create exciting and stimulating work environments. “Managing and retaining talent is a challenge because it is not so widely available, it is up for grabs. If you’re not creating an environment that is interesting, entertaining and meaningful – it’s not just about how much you pay people, it’s about creating an environment where they will thrive – if you don’t have the capacity to create that kind of environment, you run the risk of losing that talent,” says Philip Odera, managing director of Stanbic Bank Uganda.

According to Sanjeev Anand, managing director of Banque Commerciale du Rwanda, companies are also facing competition from the public sector for top talent. “Government jobs, particularly those that are donor-funded, are very attractive and they have a good reputation. There are many more opportunities for travel, conferences and exposure. There’s a very strong sense of patriotism and making a difference and a strong sense of being part of developing the country. Many senior government officials are very young, very bright and the government trains them and empowers them. And career growth in government is very positive. I sometimes feel the private sector should learn from the government,” he says.

PwC’s report is based on a survey of 201 CEOs in Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Talent – top of the agenda

The survey found that talent is on top of the agenda for many African CEOs. Seventy-five per cent of CEOs indicated that a lack of available talent is a threat to the growth of their companies.

“CEOs in Africa are hiring, but talent constraints are impacting growth and profitability and, in general, it’s becoming more difficult to find the right people,” says the report.

The survey indicates that 48% of CEOs on the continent are finding it more challenging to hire workers in their industry, with high-potential middle managers and senior managers being the two most difficult groups of employees to recruit and retain.

African CEOs are increasingly using social networks such as LinkedIn to build up contacts of potential future employees.

Sola David-Borha, CEO of Nigeria’s Stanbic IBTC Bank, keeps a file of CVs from people who are interesting. “You never know when you are going to need them, so having a database of very good skill sets is a valuable resource,” she comments.

Jesus Aleman, Angola country manager for PwC, says that in a country like Angola, where the oil sector is driving economic growth, the opportunities are not equally matched by a sufficient talent pool.

He notes that although companies like PwC have the ability to source talent globally for short and long-term secondments to countries such as Angola, this is not a sustainable solution. “You have to focus on transferring skills and building capacity, as well as recruiting the best that the market has to offer.”

Aleman adds that in Angola there is often a cultural divide between expats and local Angolans that needs to be addressed. “As the country senior partner, it’s my job to set the tone and I’ve tried to ensure that local and foreign talent mix freely and contribute on equal terms. It’s hard when the talent pool locally is still coming up, but there’s a message you can send from the top that means a lot. ‘Building capacity’ can sound a little condescending, even if more skills and experience is exactly what’s needed.”

Tapping the diaspora

Many CEOs are targeting Africans living abroad to come back and work in the continent.

For example, Philip Odera of Stanbic Bank Uganda scouts for Ugandans living in the diaspora who would consider moving back home for the right opportunities. According to Odera, many Ugandans living abroad are competent and highly skilled. “Quite frankly where we need them most is in Uganda,” he says.

Odera added that when Ugandans begin to see people from different nations coming to work in Uganda, they will change their perception of their homeland. “I think there is going to be a broader realisation that Africa is the future.”

Nelson Msuya, a partner at PwC Tanzania, says that Tanzanian talent is often located elsewhere, and very often, on the continent. “You go to Botswana, you go to South Africa, you go to Namibia, to Zambia: there are a number of Tanzanians working there. They are hardworking, they are talented, they are leading multinational corporations.”