Corp Outreach and Recruiting in Africa

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More from the Chicago Booth Employer Development team, this time in Africa. Some really interesting information on the African recruitment market from Leslie's recent trip. Leslie is based on the London campus of Chicago Booth.

While I hate to call Africa the new China seeing as it goes directly against my point made below--there is a reason people are saying it. To all those interested in emerging market opportunities, you’ll be pleased to know that Booth is paying attention. This spring, I had the pleasure of trekking to Africa with the Emerging Markets and African Business Groups from our full-time program to South Africa and Kenya, adding on a solo jaunt to Rwanda to meet up with a few alums and investigate the entrepreneurial scene.

The trek was a marathon affair with a focus towards regionally-based PE and financial institutions. The Booth group visited Standard Chartered, Nedbank, Ecobank, ABSA, Emerging Capital Partners and Seacom -- in Johannesburg--and British American Asset Managers, Equity Bank, Centum, Emerging Africa Capital, Dyer Investment, ADB, Fanisi, TBL Mirror Fund, Aureos, Kenya Railways and the Nairobi Stock Exchange -- in Nairobi. The schedule was intense, but worth it for the exposure to interesting companies in both the more mature South African market and promising frontier market of Kenya. Visits ranged from informal Q&A chats to company presentations to conversations with organizational leadership.

The recruiting outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa is healthy, but still in nascent stages. It’s a young market with young companies. Particularly amongst the funds, the HR strategy is still on this side of ad-hoc. The markets of Africa are unquestionably growing (fast!) and with them, the need for talent. When asked about internship opportunities, organizations admitted they did not have structured recruitment, but were very open to receiving inquiries from interested and qualified candidates. Some have already posted opportunities with us, and I will continue to follow up with each company as programs are formalized and job descriptions made available, but individual proactivity and persistence (essential to any successful job search) are especially crucial in this part of the world.

Organizations are starved for local talent. There is a strong emphasis towards hiring people from the region, with a premium placed on Western degrees, but there is definitely still room for international candidates to source opportunities. If you don’t have a passport from an African country, it won’t hurt to supplement with international experience (ideally in your target country), relevant language skills, and demonstrated commitment to the region.

A few very general takeaways:

Africa is not a country: You can’t class it as a China or and India. It is a continent, comprised of 54 countries. Indeed, many of them have in common rapidly developing economies, marked by increased political stability and a fast-growing middle class population, but they possess different histories, are run by different governments, and speak different languages. Apologies for stating the obvious, but this fact is overlooked more than you’d think. It’s essential to recognize the regional differences before you consider working or doing business there. East Africa considers itself a world away from West Africa and you’re best served by respecting those differences.

Africa is not broken: The CNN effect was cited multiple times as the West’s ill-informed perception of Africa. I’m not minimizing the struggles faced across the continent, but like most of the world, there are places and means to experience a familiar standard of living. If you’re specifically targeting emerging markets in your job search, odds are you’ve already considered this, but for those just exploring the possibility, keep Africa an option.

Africa is high risk, high reward: Like other developing markets, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa are not without challenges. Oft-cited were political instability, variant government regulatory environments, poverty, lack of skilled labour, and poor infrastructure. However, these same challenges give rise to opportunities within power/energy, banking, insurance, telecom, real estate, transportation, consumer, healthcare and education sectors. Multinationals are starting to recognize this enormous potential; just ask Jeff Immelt.

Africa is a unique market: This was well illustrated by the banks. Regional commercial/retail banks have a significant edge over the foreign institutions, and have made huge inroads by developing financial products that target the majority lower income population, largely via mobile banking. The local banks have the advantage of inherent familiarity with their target market, hence the ability to design services that cater to specific needs. I had a driver expound for about 10 minutes during one taxi ride about how much he loved his bank (Equity Bank, for the record and how it's made his life better, etc. How many times have you witnessed such enthusiasm for financial institutions during a taxi ride in London?

Leslie Plaisted

Associate Director, Employer Development, EMEA