Sarah Roe, Managing Director at the Global Career Company, talks to African Business about recent trends in African recruitment.
Q: You’ve been specialising in African recruitment for over 15 years. How have you seen the trends changing in Africa in terms of the HR space, in terms of what employees are looking for and in terms of what makes a great employer?
Over the last 15 years, we’ve noticed a number of trends. The first was the reverse of the brain drain. We saw massive numbers of diaspora Africans wanting to go back [to work] in Africa, and this has become much more pronounced in recent years, certainly post-2008/2009, when the markets constricted here.
But also, with the improvement in tertiary education in Africa, employers are looking within the region a lot more for home-grown talent, people that perhaps have some interesting pan-African experience rather than international exposure. That’s definitely been a big change over the past three or four years.
Over the past 15 years we have seen how the markets and demand have changed. When we started, South Africa was an important market with specific needs. Post-apartheid the focus was on getting skilled Africans back into the region. That’s plateaued out a bit.
And then we saw the rise and fall of Angola. Again, post-civil war there were massive recruitment needs across all sectors and with so much investment taking place in the country. However, with the fall in oil prices there’s been a massive contraction.
From the employees’ point of view, talking to people who are going back into Africa now, whereas previously the Nigerian would be looking to go back to Nigeria, a Kenyan to Kenya, people are now way more open to a regional experience.
Have the demands of prospective employees changed in any significant way?
There’s been a change, a bit of a global change really, in terms of people wanting a lot more flexibility in the workplace. Work–life balance comes up in conversation a lot more now than it would have done 15 years ago.
The Employer of Choice Survey has been interesting there in terms of some of the results. I think what is specific to the African audience is they want to be part of something that’s socially impactful as well as being a commercially viable career.
They want to really buy into the business and see themselves as part of it rather than just being an employee as a means to an end. That kind of social motivation or sense of worthiness in terms of what people do is definitely more pronounced within the African audience.
You mentioned that companies are increasingly looking for candidates with African experience. Can you elaborate?
Certainly for the more senior roles the expats are being replaced [with locals] in part because expats are a huge cost to the business. Also African businesses, especially the local African national businesses, are having to be a lot more competitive in the way they operate.
They’re having to be more agile in terms of how they retain their human capital but still remain competitive within the business. And so they’re looking perhaps regionally for that more senior talent.
We’re still seeing a lot of continuity with big multinationals in terms of their graduate intake, that’s one thing that hasn’t really taken a hit. The multinationals are invested in Africa and have kept their graduate programmes in place.
They realised that it’s a long game and you can’t dip in and out of graduate recruitment without it being really impactful to the business five or seven years down the line, so that’s remained pretty consistent, which is good.
In terms of the Employer of Choice survey is there anything that in particular caught your eye?
I think the one thing that is striking is that salary doesn’t come out as the number one retention driver for African talent. It’s obviously up there as something that is important and they need to feel valued but the overwhelming consensus is that it’s much more about buying into really good leadership, belief in the business and really feeling that they’re part of something worthwhile.
And so when you work with companies in terms of talent retention, what exactly are you working on?
I think a lot of it’s about training and developing what those individuals feel that they can learn within the organisations. People are looking for regional if not international experience, so once they’ve studied overseas, yes, they want to go back to Africa, yes they want to do something impactful for the region, but they also want to see some real development within that organisation, whether that be opportunity to study within the role or move roles within the organisation and have more of a pan-African experience. That seems to be something that’s very, very important.