Skills Development ‘The Most Critical Tech Investment’ for African Organisations


Efforts by African organisations to adopt powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence and the cloud are being undermined by a pervasive lack of tech skills, and organisations need a rethink of their approach to skills to correct the situation.

Photo by Lynette van der Bijl

This is the view of Genevieve Koolen, Human Resources Director at SAP Africa. “Interest in technologies such as artificial intelligence is at an all-time high as organisations throughout the African continent seek to unlock the efficiency and innovation gains offered by such technologies. However, in many cases an acute and ongoing shortage of critical tech skills is undermining organisations’ efforts at adopting new technologies, preventing them from building new capabilities or effectively driving innovation.”

Skills crunch affecting organisations

Research published by SAP earlier this year found that four in five African organisations were affected negatively by a lack of tech skills. Three-quarters of organisations also cited additional pressure on existing teams due to a lack of available tech skills, with 41% reporting employees were either leaving or planning to leave due to the pressures caused by understaffing.

“Business leaders and their HR teams are under pressure to ensure the organisation has access to a ready supply of work-ready skills,” says Koolen. “However, new talent is not being added to the skills pool quickly enough, and many organisations simply don’t have the internal processes and initiatives needed to develop new skills internally or upskill or reskill existing employees.”

Lack of preparedness affects access to skills

In a study by McKinsey, some 87% of global senior executives said their companies were not adequately prepared to address the skills gap. Koolen says one of the undesired outcomes of a lack of planning around tech skills is the so-called recycling of talent, where organisations rehire from the same pool of qualified candidates instead of developing and retaining new talent.

“Talent retention is complicated by organisations all vying for a limited number of talented candidates. Instead, organisations should seek to develop and nurture their own talent, drawing on their skills base and upskilling or reskilling employees for new roles and duties.”

Koolen points to three strategic priorities that can improve tech skills availability within African organisations, namely:

1 Develop internal skills as a priority

There is a gap between companies’ stated intention of developing internal skills, and the measures they put in place to achieve this. SAP’s research found that 75% of African organisations plan to fill their tech skills gap through skills development for current employees.

“However, only 28% offer such training opportunities at any time, with a full quarter saying they only offer training and skills development once a year or upon special request,” explains Koolen. “Considering the pace of technological change and the rapid impact of technologies such as artificial intelligence, organisations should seek to build a culture of continuous and ongoing learning.”

In some cases, this may involve greater investment of available HR and IT budgets toward skills development. “Only 7% of African organisations currently spend more than 20% of their IT or HR budgets on skills development, leaving significant room for greater investment to address the skills scarcity.”

2 Focus on the employee experience

The ‘Great Resignation’ that followed the lifting of lockdown restrictions in 2020 and 2021 – where employees left their jobs in record numbers – highlighted to lack of engagement many employees felt with their work.

“Quiet Quitting and other forms of disengagement with work have a direct impact on an organisation’s ability to remain competitive,” says Koolen. “With some studies suggesting only 21% of employees globally are engaged at work, companies have a tremendous task ahead to re-engage their employees.”

As a result, Employee Experience has emerged as a major priority in companies’ talent attraction and retention strategies. SAP research revealed that 70% of African organisations use an Employee Experience or Human Capital Management tool, with a further 25% saying they want to use such tools.

“By connecting their data, people, and processes, companies can improve the business insights they derive from HR and build a total workforce management strategy that closely supports broader company objectives while delivering the employee experiences that improve retention and boosts engagement.”

3 Build a culture of inclusion

Diversity and inclusion initiatives have gained ground over the past few decades to become strategic imperatives for any high-performing company.

McKinsey suggests gender-diverse organisations are 25% more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors, while ethnically-diverse organisations are 36% more likely to do so.

“Encouragingly, nearly two-thirds of African organisations that formed part of our research offer fully-developed diversity and inclusion programmes, with a further 31% saying they are in the process of developing one.”

She adds that diversity and inclusion brings benefits to the business that extend beyond skills availability. “Diverse companies have been proven to be more innovative, have better problem solving capabilities, and financially outperform their less diverse peers.”