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Unlocking African skills for growth

Despite a youthful and largely literate demographic, the current narrative is that Africa’s skills don’t match the needs of a rapidly evolving digital and knowledge-based global economy. The global tilt to remote working during the Covid-19 epidemic only exacerbated Africa’s critical skills shortage as the continent proved fertile hunting ground for global companies seeking affordable new-economy skills. It is expected that shrinking workforces in many developed economies are only likely to deepen the import of skills from African environments offering lower wages and less competitive urban lifestyle propositions.

Standard Bank is Africa’s largest bank, employing over fifty thousand people across 20 markets on the continent. As such, the bank is acutely aware of the efforts of its client businesses as well as its own operations in developing and retaining skills.

In Standard Bank’s view, a different skills landscape emerges. Many of Africa’s urban and peri-urban centers, for example, are rich in services skills, like hair and beauty, retail, insurance, bookkeeping, actuarial, light engineering and motor repair, plumbing and electrical services. Since these skills are hard to market and deliver online, they often find themselves locked inside Africa’s urban and peri urban centers. That said, Africa’s relatively well-educated and largely English and French-speaking populations are already commanding a large segment of global call center employment, with extensive investment by insurance, technology and logistics companies and other online service providers in key urban centers. As infrastructure development improves across the continent and global digital networks grow, Africa’s pool of previously isolated urban and peri-urban skills will become increasingly relevant to broader African as well as international markets.

Across Africa, Standard Bank has invested heavily in enterprise development, including programmes aimed at developing entrepreneurial skills. Most of these initiatives focus on strengthening collaboration and coordination among different actors in the skills ecosystem. This is largely achieved by partnering with African businesses, business schools, industry associations, universities and other social partners to provide training or build capacity and skills. From Uganda to South Africa and Kenya to Cote d’Ivoire, Standard Bank is involved in hundreds of programmes assisting African entrepreneurs develop finance, auditing, marketing, human resources, compliance, legal, corporate governance and data and information management skills.

This experience has shown Standard Bank that Africa’s less regulated and highly entrepreneurial business environments, requiring multi-tasking and independent thought and decision making, is particularly adept at developing the higher-order holistic thinking, management and complex communication and solutioning skills so prized in the new global economy.

While these abilities often add to the global attractiveness of African management skills, the independent, entrepreneurial and adaptive nature of Africa’s management culture make the continent a sought-after training ground in marketing, logistics, sales and management. Many Chinese companies, for example, deliberately place their younger staff in Africa during their formative years in order to develop the critical independence of thought and self-motivated solutioning skills required in the new economy.

In addition to running graduate training programmes informed by each countries’ unique business contexts, Standard Bank also deploys its own platforms to support entrepreneurial skills development. The bank’s Backbase business platform in partnership with Microsoft, for example, assists client businesses across Africa access cloud-based accounting services. Similarly, Standard Bank’s Unayo global digital platform as well as its OneFarm Share online agricultural marketplace provide Africans access to the global digital economy via simple hand-held devices. Finally, Standard Bank’s own internal enterprise banking training programmes assist client-facing bankers support African entrepreneurs to start up, grow and win.

Without ignoring the skills shortages that the continent faces, as a bank committed to driving Africa’s growth, Standard Bank’s privileged view of Africa reveals a much more innovative and dynamic skills ecosystem, alive to the continent’s rich opportunity and diverse challenge landscape.