Nigeria’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2018 was 23.1% (20.9 million persons), with another 18.21 million underemployed. Somewhere in these statistics are also the criminally employed who cite unemployment as a reason for criminal activities. Despite the grim statistics, Nigeria has a burgeoning tech industry that is attracting investment and attention from around the world.
But the industry is not immune to a shortage of talent as it seeks to achieve its sky-high ambitions.
Funlola Oshodi, the Lead Consultant at HR Aid Consults, a firm that hires and manages talent for tech startups in Nigeria, says finding developers is a difficult task.
“The very good developers, those with great technical and soft skills, are difficult to find,” Oshodi said.
“When you do find them, they are usually already engaged by companies who are willing and able to pay. Smaller startups are usually unable to match this pay.”
But the problem of finding enough talent to meet the demand in tech isn’t limited to smaller startups who cannot offer huge remuneration packages. Companies with larger HR budgets and backed with millions of dollars in funding are also feeling the pinch.
Jessica Akano, recruiting manager for Africa at Andela, a company that offers software engineering as a service, says one of the major challenges of her role has been “scarcity of very solid talent due to pay competition and multiple opportunities at home and abroad for software engineers. There’s always another company willing to pay more or do more.”
To solve the dual problem of talent shortage in the tech industry and Nigeria’s chronic unemployment crisis, tech companies are developing programmes to train enough workers for their ecosystem.
Hotels.ng, an online hotels booking platform, offers a three-month paid remote internship to groom developers and designers ready to join the tech workforce in the country.
At the end of the internship, those who have completed the programme are connected to full-time jobs and contracts. The programme, open to applicants from all over Africa regardless of their level of experience or coding expertise, is primarily designed to help transfer learned coding skills to solving real-life problems. It started out as a way to find developer interns for the company but has grown into a platform with over 7,000 participants. Now in its third year, it has placed several alumni with top tech companies in Nigeria including Andela, Paystack, Paga, and Flutterwave.
Another similar initiative is the Lambda School Africa programme. Lambda School, an online coding academy based in San Francisco, partnered with some tech companies in Nigeria to provide Lambda’s full stack developer training to aspiring African software developers. The Lambda School offer includes no upfront costs but provides an arrangement where trained developers pay a percentage of their income to Lambda School after securing employment. Although the Lambda School Africa program is just a pilot, it has the potential to be replicated on a larger scale, becoming another step towards solving talent shortages.
Similarly, Ventures Platform, an early-stage venture capital fund based in Lagos, came up with the Digital Explorers program to connect Nigerian tech talent with companies in Lithuania. The idea, according to its CEO, Kola Aina, is to have Nigerians work in Lithuania for a year and return to the country with the knowledge and connections they acquired.
These initiatives are steps in the right direction but they can only do so much, as anecdotal evidence shows that there still isn’t enough talent to go round.
The tech talent shortage, however, is a global problem. Technology and science jobs in the United States outnumbered qualified workers by about 3 million in 2016. And the gap is expected to rise even sharply. Los Angeles-based management consulting firm Korn Ferry predicts that by 2030, there will be a global shortage of more than 85 million tech workers – more so in places like Nigeria where tech professionals emigrate by the droves.
Therefore, there is a need for more tech companies to participate and invest in training workers not just for themselves but for the industry.
An article published six years ago by Emeka Afigbo, Head of Developer Programs at Facebook, proposes the idea of “boiling the ocean”, a method that encourages employers to reach out to or build communities of potential employees, imparting knowledge and skills in advance, creating a talent pool to tap when needs arise.
“Reach out to the developers in the community before they come to you to ask for a job,” Afigbo recommended at the time.
“Offer to hold free training to introduce people to how you do what you do.”
Along the same line, Hotels.ng founder, Mark Essien, posed a “what-if” on Twitter, asking what would the outcome be if beneficiaries of training programmes also committed to training others. Would it mean more talent to fill tech vacancies and replace those who seek opportunities abroad?
What if every past HNG Intern ran their own HNG Internship? All at once? And all the subsequent interns also ran their own programme?
— Mark Essien (@markessien) May 22, 2019
It’s clear not everyone who has passed through an internship or training is a skilled teacher capable of organising their own talent scheme, it would prove a win for the ecosystem if those who have skills are able to pass them on in a structured manner to deepen the pool.
The benefit of this approach is not only for the employer or the beneficiaries of these training programs. An economy brimming with tech talent is more likely to enjoy a competitive advantage in the sector globally, attract foreign direct investment and export talent without a shortfall in the supply of experts at home.