African boardrooms should get ready for Gen Z

Gen Z is the generation that follows millennials and Africa is home to the largest number. How can organizations prepare for their entry into the job market?

Africa could be sitting on a goldmine or a landmine depending on how it handles the ever-growing young population. It is estimated that 60 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion population are under 25 years. This makes Africa the ‘youngest’ continent in regard to its population average.

Most analysts argue that this population bulge poses a great risk for the continent since job opportunities and overall economic development might not be sustainable to absorb them.

Despite the worries, the first batch of the Generation Z (born between 1995 and the early 2000s) are already joining the job market. This is the generation that follows the millennials and are set to take on the current work cultures by storm.

The unique aspect about Gen Z is that they have not known life without tech gadgets such as mobile phones, digital television and internet access.

“Most Gen Zs have likely never posted a letter, read a newspaper, used a library file referencing system – much less an encyclopaedia, searched for content alphabetically, navigated using a map, looked up a number in a phone book, rented a movie, endured a broadcaster’s choice of viewing schedule, bought or used a CD/ DVD, or even used a mobile device with a numeric keypad,” a report by Liquid Telecom, Gen Z Report, said.

As the typical African public, private and government organizations sluggishly adopt new technologies, the Gen Z employee might not find it easy to adapt to such working systems due to their attachment to technology.

Banks and telecommunication companies are the few industries that have recognized the entry of Generation Z into the market. In 2016, Safaricom, East Africa’s largest telecom company, launched Blaze a mobile tariff exclusively aimed at youth between 10 years and 26 years. Telkom Kenya has also launched their services to attract the same age groups to consume their products.

But inside companies, the management style, working conditions have to improve to attract and retain talented Gen Z employees. Tight integration of technology to ensure smooth business transactions will be a requirement for a Gen Z talent.  


Preparing for Generation Z

According to a GfK report, Gen Z would mostly look for innovation as opposed to the millennials who would still value hard work.

“Reflecting a trend in other parts of the world, Generation Z in South Africa attaches a high value to success, pleasure and individuality. Unlike Generation X - which is bound by duty and seeks social status through hard work - Generation Z wants to succeed through being enterprising,” the report stated.

The desire to absorb the young generation into the workplace has to be intentional. Since millennials have changed the work culture across the globe, Gen Z is set to iterate it more. Company heads can anticipate this by engaging with this generation ahead of time.

Offering training through internships can open up the minds of c-suites to know the expectation of the new labour. Company internship and training can also introduce Gen Z to work cultures and explore what awaits them.

The GfK report observed that this generation prefer efficiency. “They want products, services and entertainment to be available and accessible when they need them – any time, any location, and on any device,” it said.

Having efficient systems that integrate well with mobile apps and other internet technology will be crucial for companies if they hope to fully make use of the Gen Z workforce. Manual systems would be chaotic for Gen Z.

In Africa, the proliferation of the smartphone is the number one factor in pushing connectivity. Termed as the ‘African computer’, a majority of new internet users have had their first experience through mobile phones.

Smartphone use in Africa cannot be discounted in business process anymore. Innovation around this technology would make it easier for Gen Z to thrive in the workplace.


Jobs of the future

Developing digital skills for this age group can also sharpen their knowledge on technology use. Most companies currently complain that most tertiary training institutions churn out half baked workforce especially in relation to technology. The organizations are forced to re-train their employees to upgrade their skills.

For Africa, having a workforce that can be easily absorbed by the market will be crucial, if it will have any chance of fighting unemployment among its youth.

Forward-looking companies can catch and train the youth on emerging technologies such as IoT, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics and quantum computing. A lot of Africa-based industries will rely on these technologies, if they don’t already.

Companies such as Gebeya, Andela and Google offer free and paid training to youths in the continent through various programs. Governments need to also step up their efforts in education to offer up-to-date, relevant content.

For Gebeya, an Ethiopian software training company, the large numbers of Gen Z offers an opportunity for the continent to grow its software engineers.

“Africa has been playing catch-up with the world when it comes to traditional industries. But software development and technology offer the lowest barrier of entry for Africa to compete - all you need is a laptop, a brain and Wi-Fi. Young people are predisposed to con­tribute to the digital economy as the internet is already such a big part of their lives,” Amadou Daffe the CEO and Co-Founder of Gebeya said.

He believes there is a market for making software products for Africa as opposed to the world.


Lack of connectivity hampers African Gen Z

Smartphone and internet technologies heavily rely on connectivity either through WiFi, mobile internet or fiber connection. In Africa, a lot has to be done, since the internet penetration puts the continent at the tail end.

Even though the average internet access across the continent is 21 percent, the penetration across Gen Z is 40 percent, according to the Liquid Telecom report.

According to these stats, the majority of Gen Z will be disadvantaged in Africa as their counterparts in developing nations will have greater internet access.

“The ITU’s 2017 IT Facts and Figures report noted that in 104 countries, more than 80% of the youth population are online. In developed countries, 94% of young people aged 15-24 use the internet compared with 67% in developing countries and only 30% in Least Developed Countries (LDCs),” the Liquid Telecom report stated.

Nearly 9 out of 10 young individuals not using the internet live in Africa or Asia Pacific.

However, this landscape might change with intensive investment in the telecom sector and falling data prices. More high-speed internet cables are set to link up the continent to the world, while smartphone adoption grows in the continent.

These facts and figures should spur government and private bodies to enhance connectivity to prepare for future technology innovation and also have a readily employable pool of citizens.  

There is more to cultivate Gen Z to enter the job market, and technology is just one unique aspect. African governments have the tough job to expand the economies to accommodate the population boom the continent is about to witness.