Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tech Talent Shortage Creates Challenging Times in Africa

Africa Tech (Getty)
Cropped shot of a IT technician working on his laptop while standing inside of a server room

*Prior to 2019, Africa was a no-brainer for finding quality workers in the field of tech.

That was then. Nowadays, the search in the Motherland is more of a challenge, one that was put on blast, thanks to Sacha Poignonnec, the co-CEO of the Africa-focused e-commerce site Jumia.

According to Rest of World, Poignonnec exposed a very real reality in an April 2019 interview when explaining why his company’s technical team is located everywhere but Africa, the place Jumia makes its money. During that chat,  Poignonnec said Africa didn’t have enough software developer talent.

From there, a nerve was struck with those who weren’t sharing the same view. Privately, tech industry insiders confessed how right Poignonnec was, in a sense, that an engineering talent shortage in Africa was present. Publicly, a longstanding concern about Jumia’s non-African roots was the talk as much as the theory of African tech talent not being good enough to work in a company with world-class goals.

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Adding to the discussion was a report that came from the International Finance Corporation and Google last year. The report estimated that there are currently some 700,000 professional developers across Africa, with just over 50% concentrated in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa, noted Rest of World, which compared the report’s findings to the the state of California, which has an estimated 630,000 developers.

As tech talent is not as prevalent with agencies, a huge increase in demand for tech talent over the last few years has been present in the last few years with training companies such as Decagon, Semicolon, Moringa School in Nairobi, and Addis Abababa-based professional placement service Gebeya.

Andela, a New York-based company positioned as a talent network for tech workers, raised $200 million in a series E funding round.  Rest of World noted how the company underscored the potential of African tech talent. As a result, Andela graduated to the level of companies valued at $1.5 billion.

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Since it’s founding in 2014, Andela spent time convincing young people to apply for a free six-month developer training program that guaranteed them a software engineer job with the company when it was completed. With Africa having high youth unemployment and few formal job prospects, it wasn’t hard for thousands of people to take a chance with Andela and apply for just a few hundred open slots. A reputation for training African developers and placing them with global clients developed, followed by international venture capital from Silicon Valley and investors with a social impact focus. Elevating Andela’s stock further were follow-up rounds with other high-profile investors, including former Vice President Al Gore and tennis superstar Serena Williams.

While Andela’s initial time on the scene featured the company covering the cost of training junior developers with the plan of earning fees for placement, things switched by 2019. According to Rest of World, Andela was having trouble placing the junior developers it trained and were now on its payroll.

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Contrary to prepping young workers to enter its workforce, Andela’s issue centered around more-experienced talent being sought after by it’s clients. The impact was noticeably felt that with more than 400 developers laid off, following another 100 developers laid off by the company, plus staffers. Andela switched over completely with announcing the shift in its model to focus on placing more senior developers.

As for this year, Andela is transitioning to less emphasis on training African developers, with it’s focus on a “global talent network” with developers from more than 80 countries.

“We started off as a training-led company, and we had to monetize through placement, but, over time, it became really clear what was needed is a global marketplace for talent,” Andela chief executive and co-founder Jeremy Johnson told Rest of World. Johnson said the switch to more senior talent has enabled Andela to pay, on average, more than 60% higher compensation for developers and offer longer-term client contracts.

For more about the tech talent shortage in Africa, click here for Rest of World.org.

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