What young Africans want from their employers

Students at Nairobi's Edulink International College.

Universum, an employer-branding firm, recently surveyed students from Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria to find out what they look for in employers. Some of the findings of the report, released this month, include that Nigerian students are very clear in their future goals across all industries and that Kenyan students put an overall focus on innovation and success, as opposed to money, which is the main priority for Nigerian and Ghanaian students.

These sub-Saharan trends contrast with those in Morocco, which show more of an emphasis on work-life balance and opportunities for travel. Leadership opportunities top the list for both the business and engineering sectors among Ghanaian students. Similarly, across industries, students in Ghana, like their Nigerian counterparts, are looking for the opportunity to be entrepreneurial and creative in the workplace. In light of this, How we made it in Africa interviewed Jenali Skuse, country manager for Universum South Africa, to find out more about what business can do to cater to these preferences.

1. When it comes to what students look for in an employer, are there similarities between African students and those from other countries where you’ve conducted research?

The preferences shown by the people we interview differ hugely from market to market, which is why we advocate a very targeted approach to talent-attraction strategies. Talent in emerging markets tend to have more similarities than differences with those in developed markets, but the differences are important. They’re affected by a multitude of cultural, political, social and economic factors. For example, in developed markets, work-life balance is prioritised, whereas in emerging markets entrepreneurialism and leadership opportunities are more important.

2. Could you talk about some of the differences?

One of the most striking differences from our research in sub-Saharan Africa is how important entrepreneurship is to the students we surveyed. These groups tend to be driven by the goal of ultimately starting and running their own businesses and being the drivers of their own success, which of course has huge implications for large companies hoping to secure talented employees in the long term. Another very relevant difference is how mobile employees are in Africa – swapping jobs easily and quickly – which means many organisations face retention challenges, another reason that having a compelling value proposition is so important.

3. How can businesses cater to these priorities?

Businesses need to identify and segment their core target groups – the employees that will be the drivers of the success of their businesses today and tomorrow. They then need to understand what is most important to the different target groups, and develop a compelling value proposition that speaks to the desires of their target market, while reflecting the internal reality of the organisations.

Multinationals expanding into Africa often take a blanket approach and adopt an Africa-wide strategy, which is absolutely the wrong method. There are highly significant differences in the cultural, political and socioeconomic circumstances of the African markets and these affect the priorities of the youth. Each market therefore needs a differentiated data-driven strategy.

4. Besides changes that companies might have to make to attract talent, what are some of the implications of these findings for the future of business in these countries?

Being able to attract and retain local talent will be a key driver of the success of any businesses with long-term plans for establishment or expansion in Africa, so taking the steps now to ensure you are a relevant potential future employer for talent in these markets is one sure-fire way to “future-proof” a business.

5. Why should employers care about what prospective employees look for in a company?

Because the majority of corporate value creation in emerging and developed economies comes from human capital, the ability to attract, engage and retain talent will be a key factor in whether organisations succeed. Another important dimension to consider is that with increased global mobility, top talent have their pick of companies to work for worldwide. With talented employees increasingly moving around according to the best opportunities, it is imperative that organisations can clearly articulate what their unique offering is in order to attract – and keep them.