Africa has a long history of a divided and beleaguered workforce, from slavery, to colonialism and apartheid; systems that have governed the continent’s nations showing diminutive importance to human development and the returns on the continent’s economy. The impact of this history is still prevalent today and several businesses have explored methods and solutions that can build and maintain a highly performing working force. These efforts have transcended the performance of the workforce and have boosted business market returns and economic development.
Africa’s profile is however, complex and continuously changing with the rest of the world. With 54 African economies, shifting demographics, rising disposable income, a growing middle class, rapid urbanisation, globalisation, technological innovations and convergence; all these factors are influencing the required skills and capability of the workforce, as well as growth opportunities and strategies for businesses on the continent. The key elements to building and maintaining a highly performing workforce in Africa are:
Reskilling and Retraining, Economic Diversification for Sustained Growth, Digital Transformation and Skills Development, Putting Culture at Work to Work, and Elevating a Generation of Young African Leaders
Reskilling and Retraining
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2016 Future Workforce Strategy, the impact of the technological boom, demographic changes and socio-economic disruptions on business models will be felt in the transformations coming to the employment backdrop and skills requirements. As a result, there will be some challenges felt with recruiting, training and managing the workforce, as there will be with reskilling and retraining, to ensure a high performing workforce and business market returns.
There is an imbalance in the skills required of workers and the skills held by the workforce. There are lower skilled roles, such as in the sectors of office administration, production and manufacturing that present no option for skill development where workers may face redundancy. Should such issues not be addressed on time, the future may see enormous economic and social costs for economies, businesses and individuals.
For reskilling and retraining efforts to work in establishing a high performing workforce, they must be concise and conscious of the unforeseen changes that will come to socio-economy in the future, and not be based solely on the requirements on the now or the successes of the past.
Short-term profitability pressures and a lack of alignment between businesses’ strategies along with workforce strategies are some of the blocks to effective reskilling and retraining, together with a lack of understanding of the changes ahead and constraints in resources. The WEF Future of Jobs Survey indicated that business leaders were aware of these challenges but were slow to act decisively.
On the other end, there are businesses that have implemented effective reskilling and retraining efforts to ensure a high performing workforce. GE, in its dedication to innovation and human progress, has established green field investments and brown field investments providing end-to-end solutions to African countries since 2009. Introducing reskilling and retraining efforts, the global giant has established facilities in East, West and Southern Africa to train citizens, adopt research and development, and set up manufacturing units.
Economic Diversification for Sustained Growth
One of the most popular trends in business today is the convergence of industry sectors; the erupted evolution of companies that can offer multiple crossing services rather than the traditional trait of singular services per business. Today, a telecommunications company can also become a bank, a clothing store can also become a loan operator, a supermarket can also become an insurance company, and the possibilities are endless. This is a global phenomenon not unique to the continent, and thus, businesses are competing for the defining edge on a global scale. According to Hein Boegman, Territory Senior Partner for PwC (Pricewater Coopers); “The success of a diversification strategy can be measured through job creation, profitability and exports, together with the stable growth in revenue and returns on investment.”
African countries that have seen successes and sustained growth in diversification are Kenya, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As part of the UAE, Dubai provides incentives to attract foreign direct investments. These nations have been remarkably successful in diversifying their economies and their export structures. The Kenyan economy has been one of the most diversified in Africa for a long time. Diversification in Kenya has been effectively implemented through traditional sectors such as agriculture and tourism. South Africa has a well-established manufacturing base which remains a key driver of its economic growth and diversification.
One of the successful diversification establishments with heightened convergence is the Bidvest Group, owning or having significant holdings in over 300 companies, and offering wide range of services in trading and distribution, financial and banking services, automotive and car rental services, insurance, office and print, employing approximately 114,000 people and contributing to the development of a high performing workforce in the continent.
Diversifying GE has industries all over Africa, developing the workforce and growing in market returns. GE has a manufacturing plant in Onne, Rivers State in Nigeria. In Pretoria, South Africa, GE has a facility which supplies Transnet; Africa’s largest freight and logistics company, with locally assembled locomotives. In Kenya, GE is working with the country’s Ministry of Health in an arrangement which resulted in a radiology tranche of Kenya’s Managed Equipment Service programme. The company has seven years to deliver and install the technology then train the users by providing skills training and ensuring a high performing workforce. The global giant has already equipped the radiology departments at 97 of the 98 hospitals across 47 counties, with over 560 trained health workers.
One of the challenges in diversification and convergence within companies is how to measure and communicate success and growth. The innovative organisations are noted by their leadership, exploring new ideas, and collaborations to commercialise innovations. The measure and success of the diversification becomes more than just the financial profit, but about the built value and trust communicated to the audience, consumers and among other groups and stakeholders.
Dr. Charles Kimei, CEO of one of Tanzania’s leading banks, told PwC expert analysts that; “Not all stakeholders will read your annual report or integrated report,” he said that they “believe” they are doing good things, solely based on the effective implementation of tools to diversify the workplace.
Digital Transformation and Skills Development
Technology exceedingly changes the norms of carrying out activities in the workplace. Technology combined with a strong culture of innovation can foster an organisation’s pace at producing functional and sustainable products and services. Technology can also allow for convenience, reliability and a low cost of doing high-volume business.
For technology and innovation to generate returns, businesses need talented people with relevant skills and ambition. Africa has realised immense potential in innovation, and because of this, businesses need to continuously challenge themselves to define their edge in the competitive world.
Africa has advanced itself masterfully in mobile banking and renewable energy. Mobile banking as a tool for access and convenience has brought many remote communities into the banking system. This has also been made easy by the growing access to affordable credit and payment, an instrument that has elevated entrepreneurial opportunities.
According to recent survey results conducted by Dell in partnership with Microsoft, more than 95% of South African companies rely on the use of mobile devices within the office place. Finding further that the devices are used 91% for email messaging, 88% for internet browsing and 38% for office suites. Client Solutions Lead of Dell Southern and Central Africa, Chris Buchanan, said “IT departments need to provide employees with a balance between productivity, security, power and portability in order to be able to work efficiently when away from the office.”
The survey points out that many businesses are aware of the returns of digital transformation implemented in the workplace to adopt a high performing workforce, however, there is a lagging from fear of taking risks and exploring new dimensions in digital transformation.
Although the rise in digital innovation is exceeding and generating progress and transformation, just as the extraction of resources parable; it is limited as it cannot generate sustainable wealth on its own. Considering the 2015 Africa in Focus report; the number of people in Africa living on less than US$1.25 a day has continued to grow despite the 5% average growth over the past 20 years. This is cause for concern. The concern is that without proper planning we could see a recurrence of the resource boom that once offered so much, but ended up delivering uneven and unequal benefits that caused chaos in society. Because wealth remains concentrated amongst few hands, the benefits of the digital boom miss the mass population and this calls for sufficiently diversified economies and the development of adequate infrastructure.
To tackle the concern, PwC (Pricewater Coopers) experts and analysts surveying CEO’s operating worldwide found that digital transformation plays a crucial role in connecting and empowering citizens and creating opportunities for innovation and growth. The analysts found five key foundations for a ‘smart development’ that looks at the broader ‘ecosystem’ by creating an environment that allows all kinds of business to thrive, so the wealth is evenly distributed and the population is entirely benefited. The PwC 2015 Africa Business Agenda listed the following foundations:
- Stability and trust is required in attracting a broader and more sustained investment which is needed to build infrastructure and create a more diversified economy.
- Secondly, there needs to be a plan for the influx into cities, planning for housing, infrastructure, food and amenities, to accommodate the population coming into the city.
- As technology becomes more affordable and easy to use, Africa has an opportunity to take advantage of the latest developments, such as optic fibre and 4G telecommunications.
- Africa as a continent with an abundance in resources, should be putting agriculture at the forefront of development.
- Businesses should play a stronger role in education, as this remains a challenge because presiding governments can only do so much in educating, training and developing people who are making their way into the workforce.
Beyond any business’s own workforce needs, they need to offer training and short-term work opportunities for the young and unemployed people so they can use the gained experience to seek longer-term employment, set up their own enterprises, and contribute to the required high performing workforce.
Put Culture at Work to Work
The cultural capacity held in a company should reinforce distinctive capabilities and strengths that differentiate it from its competitors. Culture in an enterprise is directly linked to its capabilities and it folds in with its value propositions. People on the ground are there to put into action the cultural capabilities of the enterprise, a critical point for large enterprises to distil consistency in culture across all geographies in which they are in operation.
There are some challenges to Africa to instilling the desired culture. According to PwC expert analysts, there is a lack of people with necessary technical skills and the relevant industry experience in labour markets. Therefore, companies must train and develop their own talent.
A success in consistent cultural adoptions that has allowed for a highly performing workforce and growth in business market returns, is the retailer Pick n Pay. This retailer provides a good illustration of how to build a strong and dynamic local human capital that shares a common culture. Since its operation in 1967, Pick n Pay has been crowned as the leading grocery chain in South Africa and the second-largest supermarket chain in Southern Africa, after its biggest competitor, Shoprite.
Following the success of retailers in the continent, Pick n Pay has set out to generate advanced customer value abroad by deploying its distinctive operational capabilities.
Pick n Pay is reportedly currently establishing a footprint in West Africa, seeing the return on workforce culture investments, the retailer is committed to investing in training and development in each of the African countries it operates in. This often includes bringing local staff of the retailer to its home office to understand the firm’s culture.
Elevating a Generation of Young African Leaders
Young people, as the stemmed branches of the future, need sustained training and development in the workplace to continue the advancement of economic growth alongside human progress. As a leader in the global energy sector, General Electric (GE) has been making advances into Africa for over 40 years, focusing its range of initiatives on nurturing a generation of young leaders in the continent. The global giant is giving dedicated young people opportunities to obtain hands-on corporate experience and valuable skills training to assist them in achieving their goals in the business environments of their future attainment.
One of the programs adopted by the establishment is the Early Career Development Program (ECDP) which was launched in 2010. The ECDP was launched with the goal of building a pipeline of talent across Africa; the program finds high-potential entry-level employees, taking them through intensive training, challenging work assignments and providing close exposure to forceful leaders to harness their potential as high performing members of the workforce.