Plugging Kenya’s Brain Drain: Unlocking The Value of Training and IT Talent Retention

By Christopher Saul

As Kenyan enterprises continue to transform and invest in enterprise IT and digital technologies, there is high demand for the skills and talent needed to sustain that transformation. IT is one of the most in-demand skills in the country, with specialisations ranging from software engineers and data analysts to computer service technicians and cybersecurity specialists. According to research released earlier this year, Kenyan organisations are negatively impacted by a lack of tech skills, manifesting as additional pressure on existing staff, a lack of capacity to take on new projects, and delays in completing existing ones.

Enterprises have much to gain by investing in their people and exploring talent-building and upskilling strategies. By proactively addressing Kenya’s tech skills shortage, they can lead by example while also retaining the talent and expertise needed to expand their business activities, unlock new sources of revenue, and further digitalise their organisations.

Christopher Saul, Territory Sales Lead for East Africa at Red Hat

The need to build talent

Over the last few years, a great deal of effort has gone into providing Kenyans with opportunities to learn key technology skills and ICT-based competencies. Earlier this year, AWS announced it would train 10 000 students at local universities, while the African Development Bank opened its second Information and Communications Technology Centre of Excellence at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, the goal of which is to provide youth with technology skills and increase their competitiveness in local and global markets.

While this is a step in the right direction, sourcing talent remains an uphill battle. Enterprises struggle to recruit high-level employees as tech conglomerates, which offer high pay grades and opportunities in Kenya and the rest of the world, attract and hire the best the country has to offer. Major local players such as Safaricom have highlighted key talent retention as a principal area of concern, as well as finding people with the requisite skillsets that align with business needs.

There is also a problematic mindset when it comes to enterprises’ willingness to train their own people. In the midst of a skills shortage, some fear that any employee they spend time and money training and upskilling will leave the enterprise to work for a competitor. This mindset is not exclusive to the East African market, but it is prevalent here and results in a no-win scenario. Companies cannot find and hire the talent they need, and they are unwilling to invest in the human resources they already have.

Getting certified in the tech that matters

Faced with a skills shortage, many organisations and their aspirations to modernise their IT infrastructure are left paralysed. Some are unable to divert their budgets to talent development at the same time as they are investing in the solutions they need to operate in an advanced, tech-driven economy.

This is where product training and certification initiatives demonstrate their value. Many vendors that operate in Kenya offer programmes that aim to upskill company employees and professionals, and provide them with product and service training. By being certified, employees are more likely to explore adopting new technologies, maximise the value of those technologies, and ensure the projects they work on have a higher likelihood of success. Significant digital transformation, such as migrating to the cloud or automating advanced workflows, may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be when you have in-house product experts leading that transformation.

A productive work environment is a nurturing environment

Besides offering competitive compensation, there are several ways Kenyan enterprises can increase IT employee retention.

Enterprises should offer employees learning and career development opportunities. They should also prioritise work-life balance, a factor that has become highly relevant in the post-COVID workplace amidst the rise of hybrid working. Furthermore, enterprises need to trust their workforce and attempt to foster autonomy among teams (keeping in mind that some elements of IT, especially IT security, are company-wide shared responsibilities). Often, a productive work environment is a nurturing environment.

Kenyan enterprises can unlock a competitive advantage by increasing their employee retention levels, especially when it comes to those in the IT department. By looking at how they can secure that talent while also exploring the potential of in-house talent building, they can become shining examples of the role technology plays in business.

Christopher Saul is the Territory Sales Lead for East Africa at Red Hat

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