How Digital Jobs Startups Are Changing The Way Africans Work

Written by Tom Jackson


African youth unemployment is projected to increase by one million people this year, yet the continent is increasingly turning out talented graduates in a variety of fields.

As the skills gap narrows, many companies still report issues with finding qualified staff, or face huge problems in sifting through thousands of applications when advertising roles via traditional methods.

Tech companies are solving these problems, however, by taking the employment process online, and even disrupting the basic jobs board model.

Online job boards are having a similar influence in Africa as they have had elsewhere in the world, but what has truly been game-changing for African job-seekers is the rise of digital jobs startups that are leveraging technology to tackle various aspects of the recruitment process or specific types of work.

Some of these digital jobs startups are focusing on specific types of work, such as informal and casual jobs, outsourced tasks and errands. Other startups are making use of high mobile penetration rates, enabling job seekers to apply for listings via text message or connecting candidates to jobs through their social networks.

“We are starting to see startups try and flip the traditional recruitment model, whether that be through giving businesses access to pre-screened job seekers or allowing companies to “apply” directly to candidates,” said Anish Shivdasani, founder and CEO of South African recruitment startup Giraffe.

“So although online job boards are relevant to Africa, what is perhaps more relevant are newer types of recruitment platforms that are tailored to the specific needs and constraints of Africans.”

Digital jobs startups are making it easier for African youth to find and apply for work. Photo - AP - Sunday Alamba
Digital jobs startups are making it easier for African youth to find and apply for work. Photo – AP – Sunday Alamba

Giraffe is one of these platforms, and has been rewarded for its innovation with significant funding. Where job boards focus primarily on sourcing candidates actively looking for jobs, Giraffe couples active and passive sourcing by reaching out to its base of hundreds of thousands of job seekers.

Its solution also covers more phases in the recruitment process than sourcing alone, addressing additional recruiter pain points like screening, contacting and interview-scheduling.

“By fully automating the recruitment process, we are able to provide high volumes of quality candidates in as little as 48 hours,” Shivdasani said.

“Where CVs sourced from job boards still require time-consuming sifting, we are able to do additional screening tailored specifically to a company’s requirements, thus reducing the number of candidates that companies see to only those most relevant and qualified.”

Giraffe is also able to better match businesses with quality candidates through its artificial intelligence-driven algorithms.

Digital jobs startups providing access to quality candidates

More intelligent recruitment platforms are becoming the norm across Africa. Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes and Anastasia Uglova are co-founders of Rwandan company MindSky, which gives employers access to a high-quality, pre-vetted applicant pool.

“Many job boards in the region take a more-is-more approach, allowing any applicant to apply for a position. Employers are then inundated with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of applications from unqualified candidates,” Hughes said.

“On the other end of the spectrum, you have high-touch, white-glove recruitment firms, but SMEs often can’t afford their services.”

Uglova, however, says such products have so far only been transformational for niche users, such as experienced professionals and college graduates.

“No platform – that I know of – has figured out how to reach scale by targeting users without higher education or the informal economy. The potential to transform the job-seeking process here is massive,” she said.

Tech can help fulfil this potential, especially as it provides services at a lower cost.

“On the employer side, we hear over and over again that hiring managers prefer a more high-touch, white-glove model of working directly with a recruiter or word-of-mouth techniques. But high-touch service is expensive,” said Hughes.

“Even more moderately priced platforms can be a tough sell to SMEs because they are so cost-conscious and don’t want to spend their limited resources on recruitment. Instead they opt to rely on word-of-mouth referrals, even if that means a more inefficient, time-consuming process in the long run. The larger corporations and NGOs are more likely to use expensive headhunters.”

There are frustrations, too, on the job seeker side, with the most common complaint that applicants do not hear back from the companies they apply to.

“There is little faith in the process. There hasn’t been, to date, a job board that has seen wide adoption among hiring managers in Africa, who are generally not accustomed to digital automation, nor wide success among job seekers,” Uglova said.

“It will come, but it’s a question of behavior-change when it comes to using digital tools and software-as-a-service solutions in place of in-person interaction. The tipping point is not quite there yet.”

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.