Making a career move to Africa could be the best decision you ever make – or it could be a poor choice that sets you back and leaves you bitter and frustrated. Whether you want to accelerate your career, return home or experience working in a different continent, you need to get it right. review by Alexa Dalby.
Fortunately, sound, expert advice is at hand. I Want to Work in…Africa is a step-by-step guide to working in the world’s fastest-growing and most exciting continent and how to develop the right strategy to move your career on.
Its author, Frances Mensah Williams, is a coach and human resources consultant with over 20 years experience of developing and managing people, both in the UK and in Africa. She is the chief executive of Interims for Development Ltd, an award-winning UK-based human resources, careers and training consultancy that has assisted businesses and organisations in Europe and across Africa, and she is also the publisher and editor of ReConnect Africa, an online magazine and website (www.reconnectafrica.com) providing information on careers and business for African professionals in the diaspora.
There has been a remarkable shift in perceptions of Africa and now it is an attractive destination, whose economic growth contrasts sharply with the global downturn. Consultants Ernst & Young comment that “By the 2040s, we have no doubt that the likes of Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa will be considered among the growth powerhouses of the global economy.” This optimism is backed by research from international authorities such as the IMF, consultancy McKinsey, the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
It’s well known that, in the past, Africa has suffered from a ‘brain drain’ – the US is home to more African scientists than can be found across the entire continent of Africa. The greatest problem facing African businesses is attracting sufficient talent. “There are not enough skilled workers to fill the specific needs of the expanding economies of the continent,” Elijah Lithiko, CEO of the South African human resources body, IPM South Africa, says.
Companies operating in Africa admit that African professionals who are keen to return home are a critical source of talent. African diaspora professionals bring not only experience of working internationally, but also a knowledge of the culture, markets and language of their home continent, as well as valuable contacts, connections and networks. But whether or not you are of African origin, there is a need for skills in the diverse sectors and industries of the continent’s emerging economies.
So where can these career opportunities be found? The book outlines numerous industries and opportunities you can follow up in various countries in the continent. But first – and most importantly – anyone planning to try and exploit those opportunities needs to consider their motivation.
“Like any adventure, you need to be clear why you are going and give some thought to what you expect to find,” the author advises. Chapter Two suggests some of the possible motivations that need to be thought through and how you can separate romance from realism, and myth from misconception.
The jobs market is very competitive and job seekers need to remember that employers are predominantly interested in skills, no matter who has them. If you are looking for a career in Africa, you will face competition from young professionals from all over the world, for whom international work experience is high on the list.
With the influx of Chinese investment and its nationals, Mandarin language capability is becoming increasingly important. Professionals from India too are seeking jobs – the University of Mumbai now runs a six-month course to help equip them for working in Africa.
Another source of competition is African professionals, who have already returned with the skills they learnt in an international context, and also from within Africa, as more African professionals are choosing to move their careers into other African countries. World-class skills are already in Africa. You must analyse how you measure up.