Development the key driver as Africa’s Employers of Choice are named for 2017

In a competitive talent market, employers in Africa continue to seek an edge when engaging and sourcing the best people for their businesses. 2017’s Careers in Africa Employer of Choice Study collates the views of the African professional community to discover the brands who lead the way on the continent this year.

The Careers in Africa Employer of Choice Study has a dual focus, combining insight into career motivations generally among the talent pool with a brand by brand review. The two aspects of the survey confluence in this year’s leading employer and key attraction drivers, with the World Bank Group epitomising a strong theme of development running through the results of Study.

The Study, which is produced in association with Willis Towers Watson, highlights several key differences between the career motivations of African professionals and a global view (taken from Willis Towers Watson’s Global Workforce Study). While factors such as salary retain an important position, the opportunity to make an impact on an organisation, in addition to learning new skills, are significantly more important within the African talent pool.

This message is reinforced after first emerging in last year’s Study, where the connection between development of the individual’s career, development of the employer’s business and of the markets in which they operate are closely linked. Against this, organisations clearly leading development, such as African Development Bank, Afreximbank, the Aga Khan Foundation and IFC also had strong years, performing considerably better than in the 2016 table. With World Bank Group’s overall victory considered, development is the key element of an employer value proposition (EVP) on the continent today.

The Evolution of Choice

For the second year of the Study, work has gone into evolving the definition of ‘Employer of Choice’. Organisations speak in aspirational terms about becoming one, yet a broad understanding of how this is quantified remains elusive. Indeed, it is more often treated in qualitative terms, as a sense of overall excellence against organisational objectives. This is unsatisfactory, as choice ultimately rests with the talent pool itself. However, our methodology of last year had room for improvement.

In year one we focused on the average review of each brand across all attraction drivers. This created a picture of who is the strongest employer in terms of elements of an employer value proposition. However, this also raised questions. We were seeing employers frequently selected by talent, but garnering reasonably poor granular scores. This was happening across multinational and regional firms, as well as across the continent. Clearly, being identified as a strong employer across multiple facets did not necessarily equate to being an employer of choice, and nor did being identified as a weak employer equate to the opposite.

We needed a way to adjust this view, so we introduced new areas into the methodology. Firstly, we developed a way to bring pure popularity of employer brands into the methodology. Secondly, we introduced a deciding factor to sit alongside the granular and popular approaches, in the form of a forced ranking between selected companies. This gave us a third factor to mould us into the index, one which was simpler than the granularity and more direct than the popularity.

First is Everything

The introduction of a forced ranking ‘shoot out’ created immediately interesting results. Brands which were frequently selected did not always fare well in a direct ranking versus their peers. Nor did brands with a strong granular ranking. Immediately, one might think that performance by this measure is as much about the relative weakness of other brands in a sector, rather than the strength of the leading brand. However, with a great deal of professionals in the Study selecting employers from multiple sectors, this was clearly not the whole story. Increasingly, talent is mobile in every sense, geography, duration of tenure and sector. Therefore, a poor result in a shoot-out is just a case of the brand not being particularly selectable, falling into the gaps of a Venn diagram versus employer value propositions and brands which deliver better for more people. In the end, of course, when we review employers of choice, we are looking for the one organisation which appeals most to the one candidate making their career decision. In Employer of Choice, first is everything.

Bounce for the Big Brands and a Number of New Entrants

With overall popularity playing a role in the final standings, the 2017 ranking sees a shift towards brands with a continental presence. Where regional and local brands figure, they are the behemoths of a region or market, sufficiently well followed to stack up against Pan-African organisations. While this means that international brands feature heavily, the presence in the top 20 of the likes of African Development Bank, Nigeria LNG, Central Bank of Nigeria, SAB Miller, East African Breweries Ltd and Safaricom illustrates that African organisations are competing effectively in employment branding with the Coca-Colas, GEs and Microsofts.

Away from the top 20, an impressive number of new entrants have emerged, with Econet, Angola LNG, Sonangol, Vinci Construction, SAP, De Beers, Maersk Oil, Wartsila, Philips, Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, Bosch, Siemens, Boston Consulting Group, Danone and Air Liquide figuring in the Careers in Africa Employer of Choice Top 100 for the first time. Here too, regional and local brands mix it with the international ones, reinforcing both that the playing field to attract top talent is (if not level, then) competitive, and that regionalising an employer value proposition pays dividends.

Sector View: The Phoney War for Talent and the New Battleground

Stepping into the ‘War for Talent’ narrative to take a view of performance across sectors, we see one or two unexpected developments. In a market where certain skills and profiles remain at a premium, the continuingly strong performance of oil and gas brands is somewhat surprising. In a slight improvement versus the last Study, these brands make up five of the top ten finishers. Perhaps surprisingly, given that few of these brands are hiring in anything like their typical volumes due to market pressures, they continue to be backed by the talent pool.

While the volume of African professionals committed to a career in the sector has obviously remained high, it was anticipated that other sectors in search of the type of engineering profiles, for example, who might be surplus to the reduced requirements of the oil and gas industry, would be targeting them. This has not manifested in the rankings, with few heavy industrial sectors making significant strides, either in terms of volume of companies in the ranking or exceptional individual performances. We are left with something of a phoney war for talent, where everyone is desperate for the skills they need, but not necessarily desperate enough to build employer brands which knock out established players.

Meanwhile, there is a new battleground for us to keep an eye on, that upon which the fight for digital talent is breaking out. Along with the traditional technology providers, the migration of firms across sectors into digital impressions of their businesses is creating an extreme gap in digital skills across Africa, even before the entry of global and local digital players is considered. In the 2017 ranking, the performance of brands from across the IT, media and communications sectors has indeed improved. What will be interesting to note, though, is whether we see the entry of new digital brands, the Fintech sector, or shifts in the position of brands from sectors such as banking, financial services and payments technology as their target talent changes and their approaches evolve to match.

Does Africa have an Engagement Gap to Accompany the Talent Gap?

From Willis Towers Watson:

Engagement levels in African organisations show a mixed picture compared to global averages.  People's willingness to help the organisation succeed surpass global levels (9 out of 10 people report putting in extra effort to help their organisation). However, recommending the organisation to others for work trails significantly below global norms and whilst effort levels are high, people do not feel enabled to do their best work, facing substantial obstacles and lacking the tools and resources to do their job well.

To engage and retain talent In African organisations, there must be strong and consistent leadership and manager capability and a strong focus on the training elements of the employee deal.  Less than half of respondents felt that managers focus enough time on people aspects of their role, and coaching and mentoring trail our global averages significantly.  Less than 4 out of 10 people feel that they have good opportunities for advancement in their organisation.

To attract, engage and retain top talent, top organisations are now devoting considerable efforts to creating an employee experience that lives up to expectations and delivers an unbeatable deal to employees.  This research suggests organisations in Africa should be devoting efforts to remove obstacles to performance, provide better tools and resources, inspire people through great leadership, support them through great line management and provide clear development opportunities.

We know African talent is less engaged from the Global Workforce Study. We know that engagement in Africa is centred on different things from Careers in Africa Employer of Choice. When are employers going to pick up on this in regionalised EVPs? That seems to be a clear path to the top of the game in 2018.