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The tech talent flight problem in Africa

The tech talent flight problem in Africa - Startup Lagos

The power of technology for transformation

As technology in Africa is penetrating significantly various parts of the economy, especially with the collaborative efforts of stakeholders, many Africans are transforming their lives with the power and opportunities that it brings in its wake. There is a significant move, through the leverage of technology, from advanced economies to knowledge-based economies. Knowledge-based economies are built on the flexibility of democratized learning, practical and measurable skills, and the gig economy.

Through these means, many young Africans are able to garner relevant tech skills that make it easy for them to capture lucrative jobs while solving germane problems to their individual communities. Also, the power of connectivity affords them the opportunity to work remotely, in spite of the limitations of distance and time.

Most businesses also are actively redefining their strategies to ensure sustainability through tech-driven initiatives and pivots. As a banal example, it is interesting to see how the global retail giant, Walmart, recently announced its acquisition of two fintech startups, namely Even Responsible Finance and ONE Finance, to drive its super app model pivot. Traditional businesses in Africa are also restructuring their business models to have tech-driven facets for connecting and converting customers.

Through technology, Africa’s economy has the potential for transformation and growth. Accenture’s Africa | GDP Forecast projects that by 2025 the internet economy would contribute over $180 billion to the growth and expansion of its diverse economy, and even grow this to over $712 billion by 2050.

The tech talent deficit in Africa

However, in spite of all this, as well as the massive development that has happened with the startup ecosystem in Africa within the past year, there is significantly a tech talent deficit problem. This challenge simply is the fact that while demand for various tech roles has continuously emerged and increased, there is an insufficient supply to match this growing demand. Furthermore, there seems to be an exodus of senior and qualified tech talent from African companies to premium job prospects unbounded by distance and time.

Larry English of Forbes highlights this challenge as a tech talent war, pointing out that this shortage of tech talent was heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a report by CompTIA’s 2021 Workforce and Learning Trends explicates, over 40% of companies hired tech talent during the pandemic, and over 66% more have plans to hire even more. With more global opportunities for work, and the jostle for tech talent globally, more than 40% of employees are considering job changes and will be very choosy about where they go next.

Also, tech talent salaries are on a constant rise by over 20 to 30 percent, with companies that are unable to meet this rising cost, suffering the consequences of talent flight. With many African companies only offering meager salary benefits to their tech talent, the odds of losing out on this tacit war are stacked against them. It gets as bad as an entire engineering team quitting their jobs to move into more flexible and rewarding remote roles.

The challenges of managing tech talent attrition are as real as they can be for Africa. What can be done?

Solving the problem: The way forward

Bolstering the supply of talent

Given these challenges in not only getting senior and experienced tech talent but also in keeping them, many people are concerned about how to manage these issues. As the pandemic has opened the eyes of companies to the power of talent beyond their geographical borders, and the relevance of remote work, it is important that Africa repositions itself to ensure a constant pool of talent. This is crucial for just as there is a demand-supply imbalance for senior tech talent, there is as well for junior tech talent, only on the reverse. There is a huge supply of talent for young junior developers, with very little demand for them.

Many professionals are considering career shifts into tech, and are looking for learning platforms, mentorships, and internships where to practice and hone their skills. These avenues are important for maintaining a constant funnel of tech talent production. Without this, it will be impossible to bridge the gaps between junior and senior developers, as well as also reduce the talent attrition that is so evident in the tech industry.

Many African-based companies are switching to outsourcing their engineering teams. There are equally benefits as well as challenges to this approach. Sometimes, having a team that is specifically engaged in, and motivated by a united company goal and culture is keen on sustainable company growth.

Changing HR engagement

Furthermore, if companies in Africa are not as buoyant in utilizing competitive salaries to maintain their tech talent, they should as well pay due attention to training programs for their employees. While it may seem much of a burden for a company to hire junior tech talent and train them, the costs of hiring senior tech talent will keep on a defined trajectory upwards. Investing in people is crucial to company growth, and is key to helping to stem the attrition rates. Now, many would ask, ‘what if I train them and they leave.’ The more crucial question is ‘what if you don’t train them, and they stay?’

It is also important for human resources management to change to match the new wave of remote work that is sweeping across continents. However, a significant challenge is managing the excesses that happen with remote working arrangements. Many point to the issues with availability and promptness for check-ins and emails, the disadvantage of the free-rider problem, as well as the bad network coverage that these staff may have to grapple with, that further reduce the quality of work output. Still, all this boils down to ways through which a switch to any remote work engagement would ensure accountability, productivity, and team cohesion.

In the long haul, it is important for companies that there are strategies around managing tech talent and finding ways around keeping afloat of the tech talent war brewing globally. These are crucial for the sustainability of not just the companies themselves, but of ecosystem growth.

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