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Tapping Into Africa’s HR Talent

Hosted by: Unilever

ChapmanCG’s most recent leadership roundtable welcomed an array of pan-industry Africa HR Leaders at the Unilever offices in Dubai where Patrick Hull, Leadership & Development Director (Africa) co-hosted an engaging session. Attendees from Barclays, BIC, Ecolab, Lenovo, Mondelez, Novartis Pharma, OSN and Standard Chartered Bank enjoyed a lively discussion around the challenges involved in securing first-class talent in Africa, a continent with enormous business potential. Chaired by Ben Davies, Head of EMEA at ChapmanCG, the event was also attended by Abby Walters, Director for Africa and Middle East, at ChapmanCG, and what follows is a summary of the key points discussed within the group.

Business Growth Potential in {nolink}Africa{/nolink}

In recent years commercial opportunities on the African continent have soared, as local economies have grown and more sophisticated businesspeople and consumers have appeared as a result. Facilitation of trade and investment has contributed to this, and looking ahead, future economic growth will be supported by Africa’s increased ties with the global economy. Furthermore 50% of the multinationals currently based in UAE/Middle East are now managing a region that includes North and/or sub-Saharan Africa, as these region remits have continued to expand. In spite of this potential for growth, though, the group of HR Leaders concurred that there is a very real possibility that it may be stifled if current issues in talent sourcing are not addressed.

The Difficulty of Securing World-class Talent

Patrick Hull confirmed that young Africans are keen to work, but that around 50% are unable to find an appropriate job, and only 10% of those working achieve what can be regarded as a ‘good employment outcome’. That being said, many Leaders lamented the fact that they are struggling to hit their ‘localisation’ targets due to skills shortages, thus highlighting a perceived disconnect between the available workforce and their potential employers.

Patrick was open in sharing details of Unilever’s three-year ‘grass-roots’ internship programme, which represents a strategic effort to build a pan-Africa leadership pipeline for the future. This has been successful, particularly in building the confidence of the younger population, and the attrition rate is less than 10% from the programme.

In tune with this, the consensus in the room was that organisations need to target young people early through social media channels or other means: sometimes as early as school years, but certainly by the first year of University. One HR Talent Leader from a well-known financial services company discussed the use of ‘Brand Ambassadors’ who are employed to raise the profile and awareness of the bank in question amongst students, for example, quite often through setting up specific WhatsApp groups. By collating a group of like-minded and bright students through WhatsApp, the Brand Ambassador can feed across tailored news and updates on the organisation to further ignite interest in the brand as a whole. Groups can be carefully chosen and topical, interesting flashes of information can be sent through to feed curiosity and raise brand awareness.

Retention and Increasingly Mobile Top Talent

Retention was a hot topic amongst the group and one Global HR Head for an emerging markets multinational spoke of the knock-on effect of many local companies increasing and improving their Compensation & Benefits packages. In Africa talent tends to move ‘in the click of a finger’ for a small increase in monthly salary, and this can have a major impact on profitability at the outgoing multinational, both in terms of lost training hours, and mid-term projects not being properly implemented. Currency fluctuations have also caused problems in maintaining static compensation levels for employees.

Talent is also often highly mobile across North, East, West and South Africa. Notably there have been excellent high profile HR opportunities right across Africa, and these positions are able to attract top talent, but if the location has a less favourable climate or is perhaps not very family friendly, there is an increased risk this talent may leave after a year or two – often well before the three-year mark as opportunities surface elsewhere. Alternatively, the employee may reside in the African country concerned whilst the family is living in another part of Africa, which can prove unsustainable in the longer term.

For some talent with overseas qualifications and/or previous experience outside of Africa, the English speaking African countries, such as Kenya and Uganda, may be preferred. The knock-on effect is that competition is increased in other parts of Africa for both local and MNC businesses looking to attract talent and grow their HR capability.

The Talent Exodus

A high profile FMCG Head of Talent Management spoke of the hunger he sees in the market to leave Africa for international opportunities and promotions, causing what he referred to as a ‘brain drain-out. On the flip side, some organisations are deliberately trying to globalise African talent by promoting an internal international secondment strategy. The danger of the talent not returning was discussed, as was the difficulty of trying to retain the returnees that everyone is looking for, and the increased cost implications in doing this where candidates have earned more elsewhere and therefore have increased salary expectations. From a more positive perspective, others felt there was often a loyalty to the employer that had facilitated the overseas opportunity in the first place.

Regulation Factors

On the mobility point, leaders agreed that bringing talent into Africa was also proving difficult, due to immigration laws and regulations. To overcome this, a Resourcing Lead for a household name in consumer goods reflected on their success in hiring talent into the main MNC in Africa from affiliated distribution companies (can we provide any more detail or an example here — not sure I understand). He told us that this was a strategy that had been adapted following their success deploying talent in the Saudi market in this way.

Looking Ahead

Talent Management and Leadership Development are critical in securing and retaining top talent and high potentials. What is clear is that many organisations in this part of the world currently don’t have the bench strength for succession, and ongoing talent sourcing must be a key part of the future strategy. In markets that are growing quickly, talented individuals can learn a lot in a short space of time, and as a result may be given the responsibility and autonomy to make a difference relatively quickly. With the on-going and fast-paced changes in developing markets, talent strategies will continue to be key, and local talent will be increasingly sought-after as we move forward.

Many thanks go to our hosts at Unilever for facilitating the valuable opportunity to bring this group together. Ben Davies, MD at ChapmanCG commented, “This has been one of the most interesting roundtables I have attended. Africa is an incredibly challenging market for many reasons, but the opportunity in the region is also clear.”



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Key Contributors:

Abby Walters
Abby Walters

Managing Director

Consulting Team
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Abby Walters
Consulting Team

Abby Walters

Managing Director

Abby is a Managing Director with ChapmanCG’s EMEA practice. She leads complex searches across the UK, Continental Europe and the Middle East, and works closely with the global team to identify senior HR leadership talent across the region.

Abby has enjoyed over 20 years working in the executive search industry, based in both London and Dubai. Prior to joining ChapmanCG, Abby worked with a major international search firm and a boutique legal search business, leading teams and advising clients on senior level executive assignments across Europe and the MEA region. She has an excellent reputation for her consultative approach.

Outside of work, Abby can be found buried in cookery books, preparing for half marathons and looking after her two young and very active daughters. She is an avid skier and is always looking for new travel opportunities. Abby holds a Bachelors Degree in Modern Languages (German and Italian) from University of Exeter.