Getting Africa's jobseekers online and into employment
"Throughout my four years at university, my friend and I used to go dropping off application letters to firms in Nairobi, but it was all in vain since we never received any responses," Zach Ngugi recalls.
Then he met Deborah Beaton, chief executive of Kenyan online recruitment service Kama Kazi, at his university's annual career week, who introduced him to the world of online job hunting.
As internet penetration increases across Africa, and the continent's famous mobile boom continues, the recruitment sector is also using tech-based solutions. However, online jobs-listings and application platforms have inevitably resulted in some 10,000 ill-matched applications for a given position.
Kama Kazi is based on the belief that online recruitment companies must offer a personalised approach to offer the best service to job seekers and employers. This means making the most of both the online and offline worlds.
While the online platform hosts job advertisements, and enables online applications, Ms Beaton and her team take the time to engage with job-seekers and provide training before making any applications.
She believes this helps job-seekers make the right decisions about where to apply, and eases the pressure on employers to identify suitable candidates.
"Several of us emailed [Ms Beaton] and she invited us for some training sessions before forwarding our resumes to any firms. The training was relevant and of great importance in our career path; she taught us communication skills, basic accounting skills, how to prepare for - and conduct yourself during - interviews," Mr Ngugi explains.
He went on to quickly secure his desired accountancy internship, and was subsequently offered a full-time position at the same company.
According to Ms Beaton, it is imperative for online recruitment companies in Africa to offer added value - such as training, and post-application feedback.
"In Kenya, customer care has become accepted as poor quality and so to rise above the expectation is key to our success," she says.
While technology is making the recruitment market in Africa more streamlined, she cautions against letting technology take centre-stage in a market so intrinsically centred on people.
"Technology is proving a much quicker, easier solution to HR and recruitment. I do think it is here to stay, but I also think we need to be careful the recruitment process is not simplified or devalued in the process," says Ms Beaton.
"People are still the number one resource that contributes to an organisation's success. Machines will never replace people, and so making decisions about your team should never be a small process, it should always be hugely emphasised. We need to ensure this is not lost in the need for speed, efficiency and the 'here and now'."
HR as online dating
While Kama Kazi believes in the power of this offline element, co-founder of fellow Kenyan online HR company Duma Works, Arielle Sandor, says technology can be used to great effect throughout the recruitment process.
"Technology is enabling companies in Kenya, like companies across the globe, to expand rapidly by facilitating a more efficient hiring process," says Ms Sandor.
Duma Works uses specialised software which matches job seekers to openings, in as she puts it, "a process similar to how online dating sites do match-making", so people are not distracted by "irrelevant opportunities".
The company also helps employers use technology to create filters for applicants, such as skills-based tests tailored for specific roles, administered online or via SMS.
And as Africa still faces significant connectivity challenges, with the main form of internet access being via mobile, she says tech-based recruitment companies must also make use of alternative technologies such as SMS and Whatsapp.
"I'm excited to see how we can best leverage some of the constraints we have in Kenya, like lack of internet access, to create a technology-based recruiting solution that is even better than solutions in developed markets," says Ms Sandor.
South African recruitment company Byte Orbit has taken tech-savvy recruitment to a new level with its mobile app, ImpressMe, which asks job seekers to upload a 60-second video selfie - a video "pitch" to potential employers.
"When I read about ImpressMe on Byte Orbit's website I found the idea a bit strange at first because I never imagined such a service could exist," says Tresor Kambembo, who found his new job with the help of ImpressMe.
"I had been searching for a job offline for five months via newspapers and job boards, it was really difficult and challenging to get in touch with a recruiter. So I decided to use an online service [...]. Luckily I found Impress Me that kick-started my career and today I'm working and really enjoying my job."
ImpressMe guides a user through capturing a video selfie explaining why they should be considered for a post. Candidates can give an employer additional insight through a simple process of social media integration.
According to Byte Orbit chief executive Amit Ramdath, video is ideal for finding the right "fit" of candidate for a position and organisation; resulting in a shorter recruitment cycle overall.
Innovative recruitment tools are particularly suited to African markets, Mr Ramdath says, as they circumvent infrastructural challenges faced by job-seekers and employers alike.
"The African markets are significantly spread and the cost of travelling for interviews, or the access to tools and infrastructure to compose and snail mail or fax a resume make it difficult for many to access the job market," he explains.
"Online - especially via mobile - is a great way to make this process easier and more accessible. Imagine, a person in rural Africa, having acquired a specific set of skills being able to tap open an app, find suitable jobs, and pitch to the employer why they deserve a shot at the position."
The point on which everyone agrees, is that if an innovative recruitment solution works in Africa, it has the potential to change the global HR market.
"The best part of innovating for the conditions in Africa is that the technology and business models are put through their paces so that if it can be successful in Africa it can very likely be successful in most other parts of the world," Mr Ramdath says.
Ms Sandor agrees.
"If it can work in Africa, it can work anywhere."