With increased acceptance of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic and with African youths’ increased interest in working for international companies, Africa’s 450 million working-age individuals could help address the global tech talent crisis. Despite this, global companies have not yet taken full advantage of finding tech employees from Africa. It is crucial that the public and private sectors as well as NGOs, philanthropic organizations, and entrepreneurs in Africa work together to unlock the potential of connecting African talent with international companies, benefitting both the global economy and African youth.
Global tech talent shortage
The world is experiencing a tech talent crisis. In the U.S. alone, there were 920,000 unfilled information technology (IT) positions and fewer than 50,000 computer science graduates to fill over 500,000 roles in 2020. In the same year, 79 percent of CEOs globally had concerns about tech talent shortages, and 61 percent of HR professionals around the world believed that tech talent shortages would be their biggest challenge in 2022.
The situation is projected to get worse by 2030. The demand to hire tech talent is expected to increase by 22 percent between 2020 and 2030, substantially faster than for all other occupations. This shortage could have cascading consequences: By 2030, it is estimated that the U.S. will lose $162 billion worth of revenue annually unless it finds more tech talent and that tech talent shortage could result in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues globally.
While many organizations have pursued mitigating strategies including upskilling, reskilling, and redefining requirements to fill tech vacancies, it’s not enough to address the demand. An increasing number of companies are hiring engineers far beyond cities in which they have offices and it is estimated that software development outsourcing will increase by 70 percent between 2022 and 2023. Parallel to this trend, companies such as Deel and Remote are assisting organizations to hire compliantly in almost every country around the world.
The potential of Africa’s youths
Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world, with an annual growth rate of 2.45 percent in 2021, and the continent is already home to 450 million working-age individuals. The pool of African professional developers rose from 690,000 to 716,000 between 2020 and 2021, the equivalent of 3.8 percent. Despite these trends, global companies have not yet taken full advantage of finding tech employees from Africa. With Africa’s working-age population projected to be 1.3 billion in 2050, and with countries such as Kenya making it mandatory to teach programming skills in primary and secondary school, it is difficult to justify neglecting Africa as a hub for supplying tech savvy people to the rest of the world. Recruiting African talent to work remotely could unlock billions of dollars’ worth of revenue for global organizations, and it could unlock the potential of, and create visibility for, millions of African youths.
While many private actors and NGOs are attempting to connect companies with African talent, the number of Africans working remotely for U.S. and European organizations has not nearly approached the scale of current hiring from India or Eastern Europe. I outline three reasons below.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, educational opportunities are limited, especially those that provide employable tech training. Apart from South Africa, computer science graduates from most sub-Saharan African universities are not prepared with the basics needed to start a career in tech. Curriculums simply are not sufficient to train students in job-ready programming skills.
- Lack of reliable and affordable infrastructure such as Wi-Fi and electricity makes it difficult for African tech talent to perform on par with their peers in other parts of the world. Africans face the most expensive charges for internet globally, which hinders their competition with programmers elsewhere, including in India and South America where infrastructure is more affordable.
- African cities lack the adequate networks, communities, tech ecosystems, and support necessary to foster the hard and soft skills required to work at international firms. A 2018 study comparing ecosystems and entrepreneurial activities in India and Kenya shows that mentorship and dense tech ecosystems influence the success and growth of almost every part of human lives—including educational and professional achievements. Importantly, it finds that where tech ecosystems are lacking (e.g., Nairobi), it is harder for locals to compete with international tech peers.
Emerging global market trends—increasing tech talent shortages, remote work acceptance, and Africa’s booming population and increased number of professional software developers—call for African leaders to adopt new policies for their countries to unlock the potential of their own populations. The time is certainly now: In a time where the global economy is projected to be heading into a recession, when companies need to cut spending, hiring tech talent from Africa with smaller salaries offers lucrative opportunities, something that African leaders can and should take advantage of.
African policy leaders should consider:
- Engaging in public-private partnerships to provide vocational tech training for youth, focusing specifically on girls and women.
- Incentivizing philanthropic development organizations and NGOs to focus on tech training programs at all levels.
- Incentivizing youth to pursue education within tech and STEM subjects.
- Subsidizing talent with reliable/affordable Wi-Fi and electricity.
- Communicating to global organizations the benefit of hiring remote employees from Africa.
- Motivating and assisting private actors such as entrepreneurs, venture capital firms, and big tech to invest in training African youth in tech.
As Makhtar Diop noted in his contribution to the Brookings Institution’s annual flagship report Foresight Africa, the African continent finds itself in a “once-in-a-generation moment of possibility. We have the chance to create a better, greener, and more inclusive future for Africa. That vision is within reach. … Building infrastructure, lifting small businesses, nurturing people—these are the investments that pay off for generations to come.” What should be added is that those kinds of investments would not only build the foundation for Africa’s future, they would place Africa in a position to resolve the global shortage of tech talent, making Africa a helping hand to the global economy, rather than a receiving one.
The potential is certainly there. But it can only be realized if leaders, entrepreneurs, and public, private, and charity actors work together to take advantage of Africa’s growing, young population to provide human capital to the rest of the world, benefiting the continent itself as well as the global economy.