African countries face a formidable challenge in obtaining the skilled resources needed to develop infrastructure, drive economic growth and reduce unemployment.
“The countries likely to be most affected by the skills shortage are those on the cusp of new exploitation of local resources,” says Mlamuli Delani Mthembu, managing director of Landelahni Leadership Development. “Africa is entering a golden age of gas. East Africa is the growth engine for natural gas on the continent, while the extraction of large shale gas reserves in South Africa is on the horizon. On the West Coast, oil-rich Nigeria and Angola are also experiencing fast growth.
“More broadly, there is a demand for infrastructure, driven by rising populations and rapid urbanisation. Expenditure on projects such as electricity, water, information and telecommunications technology, and transport and logistics is expected to reach more than US$1-trillion over the next 10 years, drawing skilled resources from all over the globe.”
Mthembu believes demand will continue to be greatest for professionals such as engineers, as well as technicians, artisans, project managers and information technology and telecoms specialists. “These are the skills needed to bring on-stream new projects across the continent – and they are already in short supply,” he says. “Across Africa, the low number of graduate professionals in technical disciplines is aggravating the scarcity of critical skills.
“The skills shortage is, in the first instance, a consequence of inadequate education at school and tertiary level. This has resulted in a host of young people ill-equipped to enter the workforce at a skilled level, hence swelling the ranks of the unemployed.
“Education is the basis for the critical science, engineering and technology skills needed to support mining, oil and gas, telecommunications and other industries. It is a building block of any economy. We cannot increase university graduates in technical subjects unless we have an effective education system in place.
“In the workplace, technological advancements are causing rapid skills obsolescence. The rate at which technology is developing requires constant investment and up-skilling across workforces. It creates the paradox of high unemployment among the unskilled and semi-skilled against a shortage of skilled professionals.”
There are currently more than 300,000 highly qualified Africans in the diaspora, 30,000 of whom have PhDs, according to UNESCO. More African engineers work in the USA than in the whole of Africa. The effect of this brain drain on Africa is enormous.
Africa has relied heavily on foreign workers over the past 50 years, and organisations spend $4-billion annually to recruit and pay 100 000 expatriates to work on the continent.
“Let’s focus our energy on the Africa diaspora,” says Mthembu. “Instead of paying huge amounts to expats, let’s recruit from the vast pool of equally qualified and experienced African professionals living and working outside Africa.
“Expatriates returning home are armed with know-how and experience garnered abroad and can engage in transferring skills to the local population. What’s more, they have a global view and can play with multinational players. They understand the risks posed by working across borders in a challenging economic environment.
“Skills go where the projects are, and where the growth is. Africa’s GDP growth is second only to Asia. We need to ensure that investment funding remains in the local economy and benefits the local population. It’s time to unlock Africa’s value, and we need to be sure we have the skills.
“There is no quick fix for talent shortages. A stable political climate, a growing economy and sound governance will attract investors and multinationals. This demands a multi-pronged approach by all parties – educational institutions, business and government.”
According to the 2012 KMPG Global Construction Survey, “New infrastructure projects are expected to be on a huge scale, so size and global reach will matter. With scale comes complexity as global players navigate tough political, commercial, regulatory and governance environments.”
Mthembu believes Africa needs leaders who can meet the global challenges of competitiveness and pressures for resources by managing and retaining the best talent, building partnerships and mastering complexity when working across multiple geographies.
“Leaders must convey what they stand for clearly and powerfully,” he says. “At the same time, they know they will be judged on their actions, not on their words. We need leaders with a strong moral compass who embrace ethical values and principles and ensure that good governance underpins the fabric of our organisations.
“Leaders need to be empowering and transformative if they are to meet local challenges and be globally competitive. Excellence, competitiveness and productivity do not anymore lie in technology and systems but in transforming people’s lives.”