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There is a shortage of project managers in Africa, even as the continent expects to ride on infrastructure growth to spur economic growth.

The latest talent gap report by Project Management Institute shows that at least 2.3 million people will be needed each year to fill all project management-oriented (PMO) positions expected to open by 2030.

To remain competitive, companies will need to hire problem solvers and relationship builders who can help drive change and deliver strategic value.

During this decade, sub-Saharan Africa will witness a 40 per cent growth in PMO employment opportunities.

Yet even as many companies buckle up to respond to this downturn, there’s still a serious talent shortage.

The continent’s average growth over the past two decades has been a steady 4.5 and five per cent. Before the pandemic, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in Africa.

When the recession induced by Covid-19 hit the developed economies, shrinking them by 5.5 per cent, Africa remained more resilient, shrinking by just two per cent.

Despite these economic conundrums, PMI’s Job Trends Report 2023 notes that the construction, energy, and information technology sectors are well placed to continue playing a key role in the sub-Saharan economy as job creators.

“These sectors, alongside agriculture and manufacturing, have been a cornerstone of the regional economy. Skills shortages as the economy recovers will create significant opportunities for project talent as companies and countries fast-track projects,” says George Asamani, MD, PMI for sub-Saharan Africa. 

Reuters estimates that $100 billion in energy projects are currently under consideration, including a $30 billion liquefied natural gas export terminal in Tanzania backed by Norway’s Equinor and energy giant Shell.

While long-standing infrastructure and security challenges may stymie some planned initiatives, an assessment by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that gas exports from the continent could replace as much as one-fifth of Russia’s usual exports by 2030

According to the report, realising the full potential of foreign investments requires that mega infrastructure and energy projects are delivered on schedule, within the scope, and, most importantly, within budget.

“Demand for industry-ready project professionals essential to this task remains robust, bucking sluggishness in job additions in the broader economy.” the report reads. 

Knowing where these opportunities will likely bubble up will empower project professionals to find career opportunities.

Project leaders, especially those with power skills that can help organisations navigate turbulent times, will see consistent demand.

Across nearly all sectors, communication is the most critical power skill to possess, according to professionals surveyed in the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2023 report. 

Overall, 68 per cent of respondents said it was the most critical power skill — followed by problem-solving (65 per cent), collaborative leadership (62 per cent), and strategic thinking (58 per cent).

Mastering such behaviours and core technical skills will make project professionals more valuable and probably less vulnerable in cases where the job market declines. 

“The job market across sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing a major boom, with project management skills in heavy demand,” says Fatuma Haghe Adan, senior project manager at AI platform Sama in Nairobi, Kenya. 

The demand for a project management skill set is evident in the experience of Kenya-based Wanja Murekio, an expert, who learned from a recruitment firm that “project professionals have become one of the more expensive hires because demand is so high.”

No wonder there’s a pervasive sense among project talent “that things will get better in 2023,” says Murekio, senior program manager, at Safaricom, Nairobi.

Google, for instance, opened a product development center in Nairobi in late 2022, just three years after building a major R&D complex in Ghana.

Microsoft recently launched its R&D facility in Nairobi, and Visa opened its first innovation center last year, aiming to create commerce and payment solutions across the continent.

Yet even as many companies buckle up to respond to this downturn, there’s still a serious talent shortage.

A researcher at the University of Ottawa, Canada, revealed that most international development projects experience the same challenge because the project management methods used are inflexible.

According to the study, standard procedures—such as those in World Bank projects—do not regard the size and objectives of the project.

As such, project managers lack the flexibility to tailor their methods according to unique local contexts.

“There are non-traditional ways of acquiring skills demanded by the industry. The globally recognised credential, Certified Associate of Project Management (CAPM), is one such.

A project management certification gives one a competitive edge in the job market. Experience with AI or software development can likewise provide a boost, even for those positions not strictly in the IT sector.

Even so, the continent remains resilient with a stable outlook for 2023-2024, despite tightening global financial conditions, according to the African Development Bank.

Globally the signs of an economic winter are evident in figures from International Monetary Fund, which projects a 2.9 per cent growth this year.

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