In the breakdown of the oil fields in the world, Africa stands out mostly for its Atlantic coast fields. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Congo and Angola have long been known as oil-producing countries, and oil producers from all regions of the world have scrambled to exploit the offshore fields there. This has brought jobs to the regions as major companies hire and train more locals each year, but has also given life to local, homebrew companies. The profitability of the industry has made it easier to receive credit and set up new businesses, while experienced businessmen find more and more local talent to staff their teams. This affects both the exploration and production industry, but also the refining and distribution of fuel.
In this grand game of ventures, Eastern Africa has always seemed to trail behind. While the countries of the East African Community – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi – have often been described as politically more stable than their Western neighbours, their natural resources comprise more minerals and biological resources than fossil fuels. This has forced the local authorities to focus more on tourism, renewable energy, and export-bound agriculture.
This is set to change in the coming years as companies turn their eye to the region now dubbed “The Last Frontier” of Oil & Gas discoveries. The region had been known to harbour natural gas since the mid-1970s, but very little of it was in commercial amounts. It took the large discovery in the Turkana region, in northwest Kenya by Tullow Oil, to shock the industry into reacting. As stakeholders and capital poured into the region, Statoil made another breakthrough in the Tangawizi field of the coast of Tanzania.
To hazard a guess as to what this means for the region, one should simply look at the Western seaboard of Africa. The initial discoveries, as it happened in West Africa, will lead to exploration drives and offshore rigs brought to the region, which will probably be manned by expats. This will only be a matter of a few years, as the authorities and the public demands more opportunity for local jobseekers. At this point, barring careful public preparation, Eastern Africa will hit the same snag that took the Western countries: A serious lack of local talent.
The Eastern African businesses are currently well-staffed. But as the Upstream sector booms and takes the Downstream industry with it, more positions will be open for staff that will not have enough competent candidates to staff. All attendant industries that will benefit from this – the road transport, airlines, and catering industries, among others – will follow the same path and suffer the same issue. This will launch the war for talent in the region in earnest, and bring companies to establish more retention plans, efficient hiring processes, and promotion of internal talent in order to generate employee loyalty, which is for now generally lacking. As companies hire and develop more and more local talent, the opportunity to create entirely local businesses will also appear, creating even further competition in the region and sparking an ever-accelerating race to the top.
The quality of education is already high in the region – the University of Dar-es-Salaam, for instance, is known for the high standards of its student programmes. If major and local companies want to avoid losing their employees month after month and having to scramble to keep them in the face of competition, they need to start preparing the situation 5 or 10 years from now. First by working internally on retention plans, either alone or through the many competent management consulting firms present in the region; secondly by being extremely demanding when it comes to talent selection now; in order to foster a corporate culture that will encourage future employees to stay; and finally by creating ever-closer relationships with the local universities. The East African War for Talent isn’t going to blow up in the coming two years, but no business ever became successful by thinking only two years ahead.