The African continent is a hub of economic activity with a growing business sector that is increasingly becoming globally competitive, according to PwC Africa’s newly-released Africa Business Agenda: Workforce Perspective 2023.

When it comes to the continent’s growing workforce, it can arguably be seen as one of the business sector’s greatest assets as it boasts diverse people who possess varying skills sets and experiences, and who will continue to play a critical role in driving economic growth in the coming years.

Compiling the report, PwC Africa analysed the workforce perspectives of 282 sub-Saharan Africa CEOs who participated in the company’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey.

The report identifies key trends, challenges, and opportunities that businesses should be aware of as they navigate the dynamic African business landscape. The report also highlights strategies that businesses can adopt to effectively manage their workforce and leverage it for sustained growth and success.

Central role of the workforce

“During the earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations focused on being ‘fit for crisis’ while, today, many are refocusing their strategies to be ‘fit for growth’,” says Marthle du Plessis, PwC Africa Workforce of the Future Platform lead. “One of these strategies across industries is reducing operating costs but, at the same time, several CEOs are considering strategies to spur revenue generation through identifying new revenue-generating streams, products or services.

“To achieve these strategies, CEOs have realised that the workforce can be a detractor or a multiplier,” Du Plessis says. “To put these statistics into perspective: 69% of CEOs are considering cutting operating costs, while only 13% are considering reducing compensation – and 16% are considering workforce reduction.

“This shows that CEOs will act cautiously when it comes to their people,” Du Plessis adds.

When it comes to key workforce challenges that are currently being faced by organisations, a shortage of skills and the war for talent are among the main issues.

Olusola Adewole, PwC Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia People and Organisation Advisory leader, says delivery risk is a significant challenge in Nigeria where there is a pipeline of work or production orders, but there aren’t enough skilled people to do the work.

“Quality is another challenge,” Adewole says. “Even when organisations do have people, they may not have the right level of capability to ensure consistent quality.”

About a third of CEOs in Africa also say they were taking a data-driven approach to manage and mitigate various risks within their organisations – some of which increased in recent years due to more operations going digital due to Covid-19.

Leadership in economic uncertainty

One of the most pressing concerns for Africa’s business leaders is the economic viability of their companies. Globally, economic uncertainty is forcing companies to take stock of their strategies, operations, and goals. In navigating the current economic climate, CEOs have identified two key themes that are important to leadership: the need for agility and resilience; and the impact of changing workforce dynamics.

“In Africa, 52% of CEOs say they believe that their organisation will not be economically viable in the next 10 years,” says Dayalan Govender, PwC Africa People and Organisation lead. “This is a period of uncertainty, and CEOs need to be proactive in addressing the challenges that come with it by re-evaluating their leadership, culture, values, and ways of working.”

Changing workforce dynamics is another critical factor that Africa’s business leaders need to consider, he says. There are both similarities and differences in how leaders engage with society and how they view productivity. Understanding these differences and perspectives is essential to developing effective strategies for managing and motivating employees.

Data-driven leadership and strategic skills planning for the future

The business landscape is constantly changing and for companies to stay ahead of the game, data-driven leadership and skills planning come into play. By analysing data, leaders can identify patterns and trends, make informed decisions, and develop strategies that are based on actual data rather than assumptions.

Du Plessis says: “One of the key benefits of data-driven leadership and strategic skills planning is that it leads to increased productivity and performance and greater resilience. By having the right skills in place, employees are better equipped to perform their job duties which leads to increased productivity.”

For 45% of CEOs in sub-Saharan Africa, they believe that skills shortages will impact profitability in the industry over the next 10 years.

“We have seen that many forward-looking organisations are adopting a more agile model where anyone in the organisation, regardless of their level or job title, can make a strategic contribution through raising ideas that drive employee-led innovation and change,” says Gavin Johnston, PwC SA Productivity Improvement and Operational Excellence leader. “These organisations prioritise skills over job titles and hierarchies, picking the right skills to drive innovative ideas irrespective of experience or seniority.”

On a skills front, green skills are also becoming increasingly important in today’s workforce with the demand for jobs in this sector on the rise.

“Green skills refer to knowledge and abilities that enable individuals to operate sustainably – both in the workplace and in their daily lives,” Johnston says. “This can include a range of skills, from knowledge of environmental laws and regulations, to the ability to operate and maintain renewable energy systems.”

Gender diversity and inclusion

Despite significant progress over the years, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve true gender equality in the workplace.

In PwC’s 2022 Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey of 52 195 workers across 44 countries and territories, women said they were less likely to feel satisfied with pay, ask for a raise or promotion, and less likely to feel listened to by their managers compared to men.

“Diversity and inclusion targets are becoming more common in organisations and women are stepping up and taking on leadership positions,” Du Plessis says. “This is a positive development, but organisations need to be more aware of the unconscious biases that can lead to gender inequality and take deliberate action to address them.”

PwC says it is evident that Africa’s business leaders will constantly need to evolve as workplace needs change. They need to consider these changing dynamics and engage with communities to solve these important problems.

From adopting a skills-based approach to hiring and implementing effective strategies for managing the workforce, businesses can navigate the dynamic African business landscape to leverage their workforce for sustained growth and success and, very importantly, play a critical role in driving economic growth in the years ahead.