Creating a Sustainable Workforce for Africa’s Growing Telecommunications Industry

Africa’s telecommunications industry is now growing at an unprecedented pace and there are three clear areas of growth: 4G, broadband and green energy. While it has taken a while for the market to get off the ground, demand for technology is growing and Africans are buying mobile phones at record rates. However, in comparison to demand, only 11.4[1] per cent of Africans have access to the internet and this is providing a market that is potentially huge for industry operators, vendors and thus recruitment across the continent in 2012. 

In many ways Africa is in a unique position as the lack of an existing communications infrastructure means that companies can utilise new technologies most suited to their needs. Poor and expensive telephone lines place the emphasis firmly on mobile internet and between 30 and 70 per cent of the continent access the internet via their mobiles. However, Africa is a diverse region and can be difficult to work in. Varying levels of economic and political development and a lack of infrastructure play a significant role in how the technology and communications industry advances. For example areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo are not politically stable enough for phone companies to make their base there and, as a result, telecoms companies operate out of a series of hubs mainly Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. In these areas the technology tends to be more advanced and mobile phone penetration higher. For instance Nigeria has the highest number of mobile phone subscriptions in Africa - more than 93 million[2], representing 16% of the continent's total mobile subscriptions. Recent research from Glotel shows that nearly a fifth (19.2%) of telecoms professionals think that East and West Africa will be the next global hotspot for the industry. The opportunities present in these locations must now be met with a focus on growing talent pipelines.

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is thought to have the potential to revolutionise access in emerging markets and its importance in Africa is self-evident. Although there is a long way to go before LTE covers the continent, it is currently being introduced in South Africa and trials are proving successful with demand for certain job roles prevailing. At Glotel, we are seeing an increase in the number of vacancies for RF planning, design and implementation experts to support LTE trials and these are available to both locally skilled candidates and ex pat contractors. In Nigeria the majority of field based jobs are held by locals but there are still many administrative opportunities for European workers.  All roles offer the opportunity to be at the heart of an expanding industry in new markets. 

Telecoms companies are also exploring the use of green energy in Africa to bring down high operating costs and many companies are now using renewable energy to power the off grid sites. One such technology is Flexenclosure’s Esite solution which is an energy-efficient system that uses wind and solar power to cut carbon emissions and lowers the operating expenditure by up to 90 per cent. In Nigeria an initial set of two hundred and fifty diesel-powered based stations have been upgraded and so far the results have been positive.  As renewable solutions such as the E-site solution prove their worth the demand for their implementation increases and improvements in the technology are needed. Employment opportunities therefore range from installation specialists to researchers - both necessary if the benefits of mobile phones and the internet are to be extended to underserved communities.

Technological advancement is allowing the development of African telecoms industry to grow faster, more comprehensively and sustainably. But, in order to aid this process telecoms companies need to develop a sustainable infrastructure of their own with a focus on the people they employ. To do so, there are potential complications that must be overcome, such as visa clearance and the guaranteed safety of all employees. However, by developing an effective and comprehensive recruitment strategy and the infrastructure to support employees once they arrive, companies will have a firmer footing in the country, a greater competitive advantage and will find it easier to attract the best talent from across the globe.

As the nature of today’s telecoms workforce moves away from contractors and towards permanent hires it is increasingly important to get the recruitment process right first time. In addition companies should focus on building a network throughout a region which goes beyond the primary service offered and it is possible to take advantage of existing legislation to do this. For example, many countries have strict recruitment quotas affecting the ratio of expat to local workers. By employing and training local people, preferably going beyond the minimum quotas required, companies can add value to their brand and maintain an effective workforce. If approached correctly, companies can take advantage of the growth being seen in Africa and have the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the community, not only providing improved telecoms but also better prospects and training for all employees.

[1] World Internet Statistics 2011

[2] GSM Association report on Africa (November 2011)

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