Geographies in Depth

These are the 5 skills African employers are looking for

People watch as an acrobat practices flips at Yoff beach in Senegal's capital Dakar, Novermber 1, 2009

Jobseekers across Africa need to hone their 'agile' attributes. Image: REUTERS/ Finbarr O'Reilly

Olajumoke Adekeye
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum on Africa

For many markets to work, information must be shared – between sellers and buyers, businesses and their customers, employers and jobseekers.

In the job market in Africa, we have reached a point where employers and jobseekers alike are jostling for their own interests rather than talking with each other. Instead, there needs to be more clarity about what each party wants. Jobseekers complain that opportunities are hard to come by; employers say that these jobseekers lack the required skills. In my conversations across Nigeria and beyond, I have heard five things that employers are looking for that should help jobseekers to win the right jobs. They want workers who are AGILE – meaning those with adaptable skills, a growth mindset, innovative thinking, leadership potential, and emotional intelligence. Let’s take a closer look at each of these attributes.

1. Adaptable skills

Employers in Africa want individuals who are skilled in their craft and who can independently apply these technical skills in diverse contexts. To be competitive in the marketplace, organizations must build best-in-class teams. These teams in turn must be composed of individuals with strong skill sets that can help consistently deliver results, and they must be able to deliver the results come rain and shine. Charles Darwin keenly observed the principles of adaptability in nature: “it is not the strongest of the species…nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Similarly, employers need team members who can anticipate and respond thoughtfully to changing circumstances at work, and who can think quickly on their feet in response to sudden changes in their environment. Employees need to respond with energy to the unfamiliar and unexpected; be willing to adjust their methods in dealing with crises or changing situations; and exhibit boldness in improvising when there are no guidebooks.


2. Growth mindset

Having an insatiable thirst for knowledge and for improving how things are done are what define a growth mindset. Employers need people who understand that their current knowledge base is insufficient to take them to the next level of their careers if they are to survive and possibly even thrive in the rapidly changing world of work. The Sudanese entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, who founded the telecommunications company Celtel in 1998, set out to change how people in Africa purchased cellphone minutes from a subscription-based to a pay-as-you-go model. The opportunity was immense: only 2.5% of Africa’s 800 million people at the time owned cellphones, and with a proven business model Ibrahim would democratize access to mobile telecommunications across the continent. Yet no bank would lend to him. Instead, with equity financing, he built the cellular network infrastructure required, and supplied electricity, water, road networks, helicopter transport and whatever else was needed to support the business. Six years later, in 2004, he had built operations in 13 African countries and employed a workforce of 5,000 people - the majority of whom were African. A year later, he sold the company for $3.4 billion. Ibrahim’s growth mindset paved the way for a telecommunications industry that added an estimated $144 billion to the continent’s economy in 2018 and which is projected to create 4.5 million jobs by 2020. He would have needed a team with a growth mindset to walk with him through all of the uncertain times. That is the kind of spirit required to work with an employer in Africa today.

3. Innovative thinking

Innovation is the bedrock of companies that lead in highly competitive markets. Similarly, employees with an innovation mindset distinguish themselves because of their ability to contribute unique value to their organizations. Mastery of their craft and an in-depth understanding of the systems in which they operate empower innovative thinkers to conceive new ways of doing things. Innovative thinkers are critical thinkers who analyze and investigate information systematically to establish facts and solve problems. Yet employers in Nigeria—Africa’s largest economy—cite poor critical thinking skills and an inability to work independently as reasons for their dissatisfaction with graduate hires. Additionally, business executives in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya identified that innovation and risk-taking are core management skills that can be difficult to recruit.

4. Leadership potential

Today more than ever, employers in Africa need workers who are equipped to lead at whatever level they find themselves in their organizations. Employers need leaders who will inspire their colleagues with the values of integrity, hard work and excellence. Leaders who will train and mentor other colleagues. Leaders who will inspire their teams to bring positive energy to work every day in order to face whatever challenges come their way. Leaders who will delegate, empower and entrust other colleagues with the business of their organizations. Leaders are the lifeline of Africa’s employers. Companies like Coca-Cola and General Electric have understood this, as evidenced by their in-house leadership programmes for entry-level staff. We too must also not lose sight of the fact that Africa’s pipeline of political leaders will come from today’s workforce who will spend most of their productive hours in the corridors of our public, private, and third-sector offices. The imperative for hiring for leadership potential is clear.

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5. Emotional intelligence

Employers in Africa also strongly desire self-aware team members with proven interpersonal skills. The economics of emotional intelligence is simple: the more team members work well in teams, the greater their organizational output. However, recent surveys completed by employers in Africa reveal an overwhelming lack of teamwork skills among job candidates. Employees need to be able to manage their own emotions, navigate political dynamics in order to achieve shared goals, but also have the ability to anticipate and respond to customers’ needs.

While the World Bank asserts that poor soft skills contribute to the dearth of globally competitive labour in sub-Saharan Africa, jobseekers can make use of free online resources and the services of employment accelerators for self-assessments to improve their emotional intelligence quotient.

Africa’s employers need AGILE employees who are nimble enough to respond thoughtfully and quickly to the changing world of work. The nature of emerging markets like ours demands it - as we must, if we are to address both perceived and real skills mismatches.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthJobs and the Future of WorkEducation and Skills
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