POWERHOUSE: Business is booming in Africa, requiring better management of talent and a need to uncover the best HR management practices. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Workplace staff

Business is booming on the African continent, which means an increased need for talent management. In recognition of this, the popular Best Employers research is being extended to include the best human resources (HR) performers on the continent.

Africa is thriving: GDP is increasing at an average of 5 percent each year and, in anticipation of typical emerging-market benefits (low-cost labour and a vast pool of new customers), businesses are flooding into the continent in the hope of long-term growth. From a business point of view things have never looked better.

As Africa grows in importance on the world stage, the Corporate Research Foundation (CRF) Institute, which identifies choice employers via international HR policy and practice research, is extending its tried and tested Best Employers South Africa index into Africa, identifying top performers in the area of human resources (HR) through independent assessment.

“As businesses increase their foothold on the continent, it becomes more important to develop applicable, relevant HR policies and practices,” says Samantha Crous, South African manager at the CRF Institute.

“These policies become fundamental for preventing exploitation and managing the massive redistribution of talent that will be necessary to sustain successful business development in the continent’s many emerging markets.

“It’s for this reason that we are expanding the Best Employers index to create the Top Employers in Africa audit.”

Looking closer to home for answers, a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants shows that 80 percent of the world’s employees work in emerging markets; yet much of our human resource management intelligence comes from developed countries.

As Elijah Litheko, chief executive of the Institute of People Management South Africa puts it, “the only thing all our HR professionals seem to have in common is that they have all read the latest management books coming out of the US. We think it’s time to start looking at home-grown wisdom, and at solutions that have worked for the problems that arise in our particular context.”

It’s no coincidence that the companies that prioritise the well-being of their staff and the retention of top talent are experiencing successful expansion. But the challenge lies in providing long-term financial, career and development opportunities to Africa’s massive, and relatively untapped, talent pool.

“As all companies operating in Africa are looking for the same kind of workers, without thinking about the reasons for the shortage of skilled candidates, they end up in the same place: nowhere,” says Elisee Okanda Loma, an HR consultant specialising in issues of African development.

“We already know that Africa has suffered a huge brain drain, and as a result, many African countries have lost some of their highly skilled professionals, (who) have left to work in countries with more stable economies and possibilities such as the US, Canada, France, the UK, Australia and the Gulf States.”

But all is not lost, says Loma. If companies are willing to prioritise their HR practices and offer attractive benefits to a fresh new crop of talent, they can use the African diaspora to their advantage.

Many of the people who left in search of better opportunities abroad want to return; what they need is an attractive package to make it possible.

“Instead of poaching skilled workers from competitors, focus on the new generation of Africans that have studied or worked abroad and who want to return to Africa,” says Loma.

According to Unesco, there are more than 300 000 highly qualified Africans overseas, 30 000 of whom have PhDs.

In light of this, building attractive reward packages for staff becomes more important than ever.

“The first step is always to focus on the external or internal factors which may attract (or not) qualified workers within your company,” says Loma. “These are always good indicators and are often the beginning of the answer.”

Important HR challenges include managing diversity and equalising opportunities; and the recognition of the unique personal needs of each staff member, say experts.

Use globalisation to your advantage, says Litheko: “When people are mobilised around such positive and collective energy driven by business… possibilities, which were before invisible, will become visible and the country will start benefiting from its diversity.”

The great advantage of globalisation is that it has made talent much more accessible to companies wishing to expand, regardless of geographical boundaries – employers and employees just need to use that to their mutual advantage.