• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Japa no more: Keeping Nigeria’s brightest at home

Japa no more: Keeping Nigeria’s brightest at home

A workforce crisis is unfolding that undermines Nigeria’s economic resurgence from within. The brightest professionals and tertiary degree holders in Africa’s largest economy are aggressively courted away by opportunities abroad at an alarming pace. Widely known as the Japa syndrome, this modern-day brain drain away from Nigeria is the result of countries across Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the broader African continent.

While Nigeria navigates the longest decade of slow growth since the 1990s, the rest of the world is quick to welcome and harvest the exceptional professionals that the country offers. Proficient in English, the language of global business, and possessing a widely acknowledged strong work ethic, an above-average entrepreneurial spirit, and remarkable perseverance, Nigerian professionals stand out as highly sought-after talents worldwide.

Industry and society are enduring the impact.

Regardless of industry, the cost of employee turnover is as significant as it is multidimensional. Employee turnover carries extensive costs, encompassing lost productivity, recruitment, training, and more. Additionally, it leads to reduced customer satisfaction, potential revenue loss, and diminished organisational knowledge. High-performing employees often leave, while less-skilled ones tend to stay, perpetuating a negative turnover cycle.

A cursory look across various industries reflects the incredible impact of the trend on Nigerian business and society. According to the Office of National Statistics in the UK, a popular destination for those emigrating, 141,000 people emigrated from Nigeria to the UK between June 2022 and June 2023 alone. Emigration is taking a huge toll on Nigeria’s thriving banking sector as it grapples with the challenge of retaining a range of professionals, especially in IT, risk management, and finance roles. This brain drain threatens the sector’s competitiveness and resilience as it struggles to replace the experience and expertise of departing professionals.

The growing fintech sector, boasting unicorns like Flutterwave and Paystack, struggles to retain vital developers and engineers, risking innovation and impeding efforts to improve financial inclusion. Nigeria’s dynamic creative industries, including Nollywood, Afrobeat, and contemporary art, also suffer from talent migration. The departure of medical professionals challenges healthcare investors and exacerbates a brewing crisis in the sector.

Reimagining workforce engagement

Addressing both the push and pull factors driving JAPA is imperative for both public and private sector stakeholders. The government must prioritise economic reforms, infrastructure development, and security to create a stable foundation for growth. At the same time, the private sector must develop innovative and effective talent management strategies. Appealing to patriotism or employee loyalty is a losing strategy.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for businesses to develop innovative strategies to nurture and retain top talent in a dynamic and technologically driven work environment. These include a strategic recruiting approach that identifies leaders who will foster an atmosphere exuding a sense of belonging for all employees. However, with one survey noting that half of recruitment leaders say that identifying the right candidates from a large pool of applicants is the most challenging part of their job, AI-powered hiring tools are revolutionising the way organisations assess cultural fit. These sophisticated systems delve into the nuances of a candidate’s personality, values, and behaviours, offering a multi-dimensional view of their potential alignment with company culture.

Adopting artificial intelligence

Through psychometric assessments, AI evaluates traits and abilities, providing detailed profiles predicting candidate-team compatibility. Data analytics processes vast amounts of information, comparing responses and historical data against cultural benchmarks. This ensures an objective assessment and reveals unnoticed patterns. Integrating these assessments and AI methods enables informed hiring decisions, ensuring new hires are capable and culturally cohesive. According to the RESILIGENT 2023 Leadership in Motion Survey, 42 percent of HR leaders in West Africa consider embedding AI in recruitment. Nigerian employers should embrace this trend for efficiency benefits.

Embracing diversity and inclusion

Employers must foster workplace diversity, addressing Nigeria’s lag in empowering women. Inclusive workplaces require policies promoting gender equality, including equal pay and flexible arrangements. Robust mechanisms are essential to preventing harassment and discrimination. By creating a supportive culture for women, Nigerian companies can tap into diverse talent and retain their best female employees.

Rethinking leadership development and training

Investing in leadership development is another critical aspect of reimagining workforce engagement. Providing training and support to managers and leaders is essential to ensuring they have the skills and self-awareness to build environments where employees feel a sense of psychological safety—the belief that they can speak up, take risks, and express themselves without fear of negative consequences.

Investing in leadership development is crucial for enhancing workforce engagement. Training managers and leaders is essential to creating environments where employees feel psychologically safe, enabling them to speak up and take risks without fear. A Gallup poll revealed that over half of American workers leave jobs due to poor leadership. While the RESILIGENT 2023 Leadership in Motion Survey addressed similar concerns, 94 percent declined to respond, leaving Nigeria’s situation uncertain. However, it is reasonable to assume higher turnover rates in Nigeria. To counteract this potential workplace culture challenge, leaders should foster trust, openness, and respect, valuing input from team members to enhance retention.

Leadership programmes should focus on emotional intelligence, communication, and inclusive practices, fostering an engaged and loyal workforce. Additionally, investing in staff development, including mentorship and upskilling, empowers employees and strengthens the talent pipeline. Training plans should align with employee interests, fostering creativity and company growth.

Adapting to a post-pandemic world

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards remote work and highlighted the importance of adaptability. While the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, the lessons learned about the value of flexible work arrangements remain relevant. Nigerian companies offering remote and hybrid options attract skilled professionals seeking work-life balance, countering overseas opportunities. Supporting remote staff with collective workspaces further demonstrates employer commitment to well-being and professional success, enhancing talent retention. This level of support can be a significant factor in attracting and retaining top talent.

Beyond compensation: Understanding employee values

Nigerian companies must recognise that competitive compensation isn’t the sole motivator for employees. Opportunities for professional development, coaching, recognition, and understanding of employee values foster loyalty. Offering a holistic package, including growth opportunities and personal fulfilment, helps employers stand out. Recent research by Gallup and Workhuman underscores the importance of strategic employee recognition, reducing attrition by fostering a fulfilling, equitable, and personalised work environment. Recognising and crediting employees for their achievements builds stronger organisational bonds.

Nurturing the creative ecosystem

Fostering a thriving ecosystem at home is crucial for industry success. Stakeholders should collaborate to create supportive networks and systems for entrepreneurs and employees. Nigeria’s creative industry stakeholders should aim to establish top-tier production facilities, artist residencies, and cultural institutions to nurture artistic talent. Public-private partnerships, like the Lagos State Government’s collaboration with Ebonylife Place, are essential for developing this ecosystem and fostering opportunities for young Nigerians in the arts.

High stakes demand a collective effort.

The stakes are high. If Nigeria fails to keep its brightest minds at home, it risks squandering its immense potential and losing the talent pool needed to drive its growth out of its current economic quagmire. However, Nigeria can unlock a new era of growth and prosperity by confronting Japan head-on, reimagining workplace engagement, and harnessing its people’s talent. The time to act is now. Nigeria must say “Japa No More” and build a future where its brightest stars shine at home. This will require bold leadership, innovative thinking, and a commitment to inclusive growth. By keeping its brightest minds at home, Nigeria can emerge as a global powerhouse and a shining example of Africa’s potential. The future of Nigeria depends on it.

Remi Adebonojo is the managing partner of RESILIGENT, a premier professional development firm based in the U.K., serving clients in Europe and Africa.