Students joining HTML coding workshop at Ga-Rankuwa, South Africa, 22 November 2017. Original public domain image from Flickr/Public Domain/CC0 license
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The opportunities for BPO and gig work in a post-Covid Africa

The world of work has evolved rapidly in the past two years. Increased digitisation has made remote work, gig work, and BPO become mainstream – how can Africa get into the ring?

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed life as we all know it, with the labour market getting a significant hit. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, around 144 million jobs were lost globally. In the following year, COVID claimed  22 million jobs in Africa alone and the trend is predicted to continue through 2022 and on into 2023. The pandemic left other patterns that have continued to impact and shape the world of work for both talent and businesses, including how people want to work, where they want to work, and cost considerations. This will inevitably give rise to labour markets built around remote work, outsourced work, and gigs.

The rise of BPO and Gig Work

Global trends have revealed that more and more companies are starting to embrace BPO for its many benefits. Beyond saving time and cost, BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) offers enormous opportunities for companies to enjoy operational flexibility that allows the highly skilled and crucial employees to focus on the core aspects of the business to transform, innovate, and create more value. 

To be fair, the BPO trend started way back at the start of the new millennium, with IT work being offshored to India in preparation for Y2K. Post-pandemic, Africa has become an even more attractive destination for BPO given the availability of English, French, Portuguese and other languages, coupled with a young population and some of the lowest labour costs globally.

This opens up a world of possibilities for a generation of workers who are beginning to move away from traditional, formal, or contracted types of employment to embrace gig work.

And why not?  Like the rest of the world, the pandemic gave workers an unprecedented taste of flexibility that wasn’t commonly found in Africa with remote work. According to the International Labour Organisation’s report – The New Normal; Changing Workplace in Africa, 85 percent of enterprises surveyed had some remote work during the pandemic.  

Although evidence-based trends suggest that fully remote work isn’t a pathway employers are enthusiastic about sticking to post-pandemic, the adoption of a hybrid work model is still bound to open a vista of opportunities for both the supply and demand sides of the labour market with BPO and gig work in Africa. This shift from a major barrier shines a light on Africa’s huge potential. 

What makes Africa a viable BPO/Gig work destination?

A burgeoning youth population: Almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent, and is the prevalent age range in the gig economy. Tapping into this young and energetic talent pool to hire web developers, content writers, and customer service representatives may just be the surefire way for companies to continue to scale.

Competitive labour cost: African countries have low labour costs compared to highly industrialised countries in Europe and North America that have higher salary rates. In fact, according to this study on ‘Globalisation, labour markets and inequality,’  the median wage for jobs in advanced countries is two and a half times the wage level for jobs with similar skill levels in the most advanced developing countries, and five times the level in low-income countries.

Technology adoption:  Covid-19 has accelerated Africa’s adoption of digital technologies. In fact, the pace of adoption and infrastructure buildout is happening faster on the continent than in any other region. Digital services are essential for remote work, resulting in massive data traffic, particularly through mobile networks, which provide internet access to millions of Africans.  In summary, technology has the capacity to offer expanded opportunities for BPO and GIG work.

Multilingual proficiency: In African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Botswana, English is frequently spoken as a first language, whereas French is spoken by Senegalese, Moroccans, Malagasy, and others. Portuguese is a language that is widely spoken in Mozambique. As a result, many Africans find it simple to interact at a local level with clients and customers around the world. This makes it easy for companies to tap into the talent pool for front office offshore outsourcing, like customer service roles, to support their global operations. 

Government support: Countries on the African continent are showing their commitment to ensuring the BPO sector thrives by implementing government policies to monitor and support the industry. For example, Nigeria’s outsourcing market has received government support by drafting a National Outsourcing Strategy that seeks to grow and promote Nigeria’s image internationally as the preferred global digital outsourcing destination and ICT business hub.  Kenya, Uganda and Ghana as well, have defined BPO strategies. The Uganda government, as an example, also inaugurated the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) and Innovation Council that is tasked with formulating strategies for creating jobs for the youth through ICT outsourcing.

Thinking ahead

The ripple effect of tapping into the goldmine of Africa’s BPO and GIG work opportunities will spread across both the demand and supply sides of the labour market. However, to fully maximise these opportunities, the talent pool in Africa must continue to upskill and develop the capacity to compete in the global BPO space.  The key is to ensure that talent is ready when the opportunities come knocking.

By: Hilda Kabushenga Kragha, CEO – The Africa Talent Company.

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