Project talent in Africa still in demand despite signs of an economic winter

African economies remain resilient with a stable outlook for 2023-2024, despite tightening global financial conditions, according to the African Development Bank. Globally the signs of an economic winter are evident in figures from International Monetary Fund, which projects a 2.9% growth this year. The outlook is more sobering for advanced economies that spur much of the world’s project activity. Yet even as many companies buckle up to respond to this downturn, there’s still a serious talent shortage.

According to Project Management Institute’s most recent Talent Gap report, 2.3 million people will be needed each year to fill all project management-oriented (PMO) positions expected to open by 2030. To remain competitive, companies will need to hire problem solvers and relationship builders who can help drive change and deliver strategic value. During this decade, sub-Saharan Africa will witness a 40% growth in PMO employment  opportunities

The continent’s average growth over the past two decades has been a steady 4.5% and 5%. Before the pandemic, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in Africa. When the recession induced by Covid-19 hit the developed economies, shrinking them by 5.5%, Africa remained more resilient, shrinking by just 2%.

“Despite these economic conundrums, PMI’s Job Trends Report 2023 notes that the construction, energy, and information technology sectors are well placed to continue playing a key role in the sub-Sharan economy as job creators,” says George Asamani, MD, PMI for sub-Saharan Africa. 

“These sectors, alongside agriculture and manufacturing, have been a cornerstone of the regional economy. Skills shortages as the economy recovers will create significant opportunities for project talent as companies and countries fast-track projects. Also, foreign direct investment to African countries hit a record $83 billion in 2021, according to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2022.”

Reuters estimates that $100 billion in energy projects are currently under consideration, including a $30 billion liquefied natural gas export terminal in Tanzania backed by Norway’s Equinor and energy giant Shell. While long-standing infrastructure and security challenges may stymie some planned initiatives, an assessment by the International Energy Agency found that gas exports from the continent could replace as much as one-fifth of Russia’s usual exports by 2030.

Realising the full potential of foreign investments requires that mega infrastructure and energy projects are delivered on schedule, within the scope, and, most importantly, within budget. Demand for industry-ready project professionals essential to this task remains robust, bucking sluggishness in job additions in the broader economy. Knowing where these opportunities will likely bubble up will empower project professionals to find career opportunities.

Project leaders, especially those with power skills that can help organisations navigate turbulent times, will see consistent demand. Across nearly all sectors, communication is the most critical power skill to possess, according to professionals surveyed in the PMI Pulse of the Profession® 2023 report.  

Overall, 68% of respondents said it was the most critical power skill — followed by problem-solving (65%), collaborative leadership (62%), and strategic thinking (58%). Mastering such behaviours and core technical skills will make project professionals more valuable and probably less vulnerable in cases where the job market declines. 

“The job market across sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing a major boom, with project management skills in heavy demand,” says Fatuma Haghe Adan, senior project manager at AI platform Sama in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The demand for a project management skillset is evident in the experience of Kenya-based Wanja Murekio, PMP, who learned from a recruitment firm that “project professionals have become one of the more expensive hires because demand is so high.”

No wonder there’s a pervasive sense among project talent “that things will get better in 2023,” adds Murekio, senior program manager, Safaricom, Nairobi.

Google, for instance, opened a product development center in Nairobi in late 2022, just three years after building a major R&D complex in Ghana. Microsoft recently launched its R&D facility in Nairobi, and Visa opened its first innovation center last year, aiming to create commerce and payment solutions across the continent.

“There are non-traditional ways of acquiring skills demanded by the industry. The globally recognised credential, Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM), is one such. A high school diploma is a minimum requirement to take the exam. Add five years of experience leading projects, and you can aspire for a Project Management Professional certification, a gold standard in the industry. It is worth noting that project management skills are transferable across industries,” adds Asamani.

This view is supported by Adan, who says, “A project management certification gives one a competitive edge in the job market. Experience with AI or software development can likewise provide a boost, even for those positions not strictly in the IT sector.”

“Across the region, many governments were still rebuilding their balance sheets when events in Ukraine moved the goalposts. There is a continent-wide acceptance that infrastructure projects can reset the status quo. With $600 billion pledged by the G7 countries to fund projects in developing economies and the government’s own efforts to build back better, we could see more jobs being created that will need project management skills,” says Asamani in conclusion. 

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