Why Global Workforce Leaders Are Looking to Africa
In many parts of the world, talent demand far exceeds supply. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that of all the workers that lost their job during the pandemic, over 55% have not looked for a job since, with 41% of those saying they weren’t sure when they would likely return. The ONS also reports that since the pandemic, more than 400,000 adults age 50+ have left the labour market completely with no desire to return.
In addition, the World Economic Forum (WEF) analysis of 228 million job postings revealed that the fastest-growing, highest-demand emerging skills sets are:
- Artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML)
- Cloud computing
- Product management
- Social media
With this in mind, the global workforce industry has its sights set on new territory: Africa. Africa’s working-age population is expected to grow by more than 450 million people, or close to 70%, by 2035.
Africa will emerge as a key piece of the global workforce – and has already started to gather momentum. Some of the largest global technology companies – Google, Meta and Microsoft – have all deployed in Africa to capitalize on this talent surge.
The question is: does the shift in how, what and where work gets done accelerate the growth of talent pools in the largest and possibly most influential continent? As usual, it depends on who and what you ask.
Why Africa, Why Now?
Of course, this is not a new topic. Reports such as “Africa at Work” and “Workforce of the Future 2030” proposed this migration to Africa years ago. However, a new collection of articles from all the major consultancies on the African workforce have cropped up since the start of the pandemic, including “Is Africa the New Global Talent Pool?”, “Africa’s Youths Can Help Solve the Global Tech Talent Shortage” and “Freelancing in Africa: A Growing Trend in an Overlooked Market.” There is a reason for that. The conditions of a post-COVID world have focussed the spotlight back on this relatively untapped workforce.
The most obvious reason for the talent focus on Africa is the predicted spike in the working population over the next 20-plus years – an increase that would comprise a third of the global working population. Further, in August 2022, Kenya became the first African country to make coding lessons mandatory in primary and secondary schools. And, to date, more than $7 billion in venture capitalist funds have gone to tech company startups in Africa.
Let’s take look at the conditions that might have caused this. In 2019, the challenges facing Africa’s employment age population were primarily: access to training, infrastructure and access to jobs. Is the African continent ultimately positioned to become the biggest beneficiary from the surge in remote working? Let’s explore those challenges more closely through today’s lens.
Training the Global Workforce
First, on the training and education front, the World Bank’s spending on education in sub-Saharan Africa has tripled from $400 million in 2018 to $1.2 billion in 2021 in West and Central Africa, with major investments in the higher education sector. About $600 million of the World Bank’s investment has gone towards the African Centres of Excellence (ACE) programme, established in 2014 to increase the number of PHDs and MSc degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Since then, a total of 53 centres in 35 universities in 11 countries – namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo – now participate in the project. And what is the net result? Many of these newly minted graduates have benefited from additional software engineering training backed by companies such as Decagon and Alt school Africa.
Infrastructure Critical to Global Workforce Opportunities in Africa
Having an educated talent pool that doesn’t have access to technology, or primarily a stable internet connection, caps the ability to use this talent. So what’s happened in this space, according to the World Bank, is that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest growth in global Internet penetration, increasing from less than 1% in 2000 to 30% today.
Between 2019 and 2021 internet use in Africa jumped by 23%. Despite this impressive growth, there is still a coverage gap of over 840 million people who don’t have access to reliable and affordable internet access. While growth is happening at a blistering pace, adoption is not quite on the same scale as coverage. However, this seems like an issue quickly disappearing into the rear view.
Access to Jobs in Global Workforce Accelerating by Domestic and Foreign Investment
A growing network of “connector” firms – either freelance management systems or recruitment firms specifically looking to deploy this talent to global firms remotely – have already formed. Nevertheless, companies headquartered in Europe and the United Kingdom have yet to move their collective focus from the Eastern European markets for lower cost talent.
Most of the technology startups coming out of Africa are American companies – usually backed by American venture capitalists – so in many ways America is getting to African talent before Europe catches on.
As a side note, one of the primary missions for training talent comes from African governments. In Nigeria, states are pledging to train those at risk of emigration – those that would otherwise live in abject poverty and seek to leave the country in search of a better life – into the workforce of the future.
They aim to do this with free training into STEM and software engineering. Some states are expecting to take up to 20,000 from the path of emigration to full-stack engineers in the next 10 years, giving Africans a reason to stay and a career to follow.
Africa is not just on the defence. It wants talent from the rest of the world to relocate. Initiatives, such as Silicon Zanzibar, directly attempt to attract companies and individuals to Zanzibar with low taxes and easy to obtain work visas.
Opportunities and Challenges in Outsourcing to Africa
While it is clear that the challenges in facing global workforce opportunities in Africa are decreasing in terms of access to training, infrastructure and jobs, I would be remiss if I didn’t reference the perceived difficulties in doing business compliantly in countries that typically fall at the wrong end of the global corruption index. However, there is significant business opportunity and a way to comply.
For example, the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act (UKBA) outline how it can be done if the engagements are carefully planned out and arranged with partners experienced in this space. This is huge, and companies are already proving its possible. Maybe not “as easy as ABC,” but certainly plausible, possible and demonstrated by other firms.
Moving forward, it is expected that Africa will be a key consideration in strategic global workforce planning. Moreover, frameworks like the Universal Workforce Model™ that harmonize deconstructing the work, assessing talent and utilising integrated workforce technology platforms, will help organisations take advantage of the talent opportunities that lie ahead in this region.