The dynamics of the workplace have continued to shift globally since the pandemic. The labour market’s ethos, structures, and outcomes are now influenced by generic trends and those specific to various continents.
For Nigeria, the Japa phenomenon is the era-defining trend currently unearthing layers upon layers of themes and concerns particular to the corporate. No industry appears to be immune to this wave that has continued to snatch the best talent from the labour market.
‘Japa’ is a popular slang of Yoruba language origin which means to escape or find a quick way out of a seemingly dangerous situation. In recent times, this slang has become quite prominent in viral conversations as Nigeria continues to witness a record increase in the number of people leaving the country in search of the proverbial greener pastures.
A tweaked narrative
The unemployment rate has greatly influenced the need for a better life abroad in Nigeria. However, the fact that individuals perceived to be financially stable and at (or close to) the pinnacle of their profession are joining the Japa train has tweaked this narrative in the last two years. For instance, Femi James, a Corporate Banking executive, said he was puzzled when, in his words, several seniors he was looking up to in the bank started to Japa.
A recent poll by Jobberman revealed that 50% of recently relocated professionals are at the mid to senior level in organisations. According to UK Immigration reports, Nigerian nationals witnessed the most significant percentage rise in sponsored study grants among study visas given by the United Kingdom as of March 2022, growing by 57,545 (+529%) from 2020. Samuel Oyekanmi, a Research Analyst at Nairametrics focusing on the Nigerian emigration phenomenon, says that this number is still expected to rise in the last quarter of 2022.
This massive brain drain has many implications for businesses losing talent faster than they can replace them and the nation at large.
The fundamental place for businesses to start is understanding the ‘why’ behind the Japa trend. Finding this missing piece will offer insights into what they are up against and help them develop a winning strategy in the war for talent.
Finding the missing piece; Why are the professionals leaving?
At a recent virtual roundtable event organised by Jobberman, thought leaders and industry experts convened to discuss the various workplace trends that have left businesses on the edge of their seats and offered up some solutions on how they can win. The Japa wave, of course, took the lead.
When asked why professionals who have stable jobs and thriving careers, by all Nigerian standards, are still seen leaving in droves, Franklin Ali, (Chief Human Resources Officer at Interswitch) and Jumoke Aleoke-Malachi (Founder, Workplace with JAM), posited that people’s grouse isn’t with the organisation they work in, but the Nigerian system. They argued that the factors influencing the Japa movement are beyond organisations. People are leaving because they no longer trust the system and no longer believe that their commitment counts for something for their family and future.
A case study that exemplifies these thoughts is that of Chukwudi Ezekwesili, a former Security Operations Lead in one of Nigeria’s leading banks who has relocated to Canada. For him, nothing the organisation he worked for could have done to break his resolve to Japa. This resolve, he said, was firmly cemented when he fell into a kidnapper’s den, only escaping by a hair’s breadth. No salary increment or perks of any kind can solve the growing concern of insecurity.
Moyosola, a Marketing & Communications executive with 10 years of experience’s decision to relocate also stems from the security issues within the country, in addition to her desire to give her children unhindered access to quality education and global opportunities.
Are organisations, therefore, fully exonerated from all the factors exacerbating the Japa exodus in corporate Nigeria? According to HR Thought Leader Yemi Faseun’s submission at the event, not quite. He said: “Not managing talents within the context of new work realities is contributing to the Japa trend. People are no longer looking for physical employment contracts, but psychological contracts of experience”.
Still, if organisations cannot singlehandedly stop the Japa train, what can they do to stay afloat and mitigate the effects?
Helping businesses win
Experts at the roundtable event had some profound insights into how businesses can ensure that the growing talent gap does not become an Achilles heel in their business. Let’s look at some of them:
- Talent management from the leadership level: According to Yemi Faseun, employees began receiving promotions based on performance a few years ago as the workforce shifted toward millennials, but they had no relevant experience or education that would have qualified them to hold those leadership roles. Leadership is a skill that must be learned; it is not a trait that develops with time. For instance, Gen-Z and millennials cannot be managed in the same manner that boomers and baby boomers were. This is why organisations need to invest in relevant training and development for people who hold leadership positions.
- Prioritise access to talent over ownership of talent: The world of work is gradually moving away from owning talent to having access to them in what is called Flexible Talent Management (FTM) or Agile Talent Management. FTM uses freelancers and independent contractors to close talent gaps, meet project-specific temporary workforce needs, and offer quick access to specialised capabilities. This is a viable option for businesses that are currently processing more employee offboarding than onboarding.
- Focus on the ones present: It’s important that organisations begin to shift focus on those that are leaving (or have left) and pay attention to those still in their workforce. Exit interviews are good, but it’s time to consider conducting ‘stay interviews’. This can offer some great insights into why they have remained and how you can better improve their experiences. Borrowing from the saying ‘a bird at hand…’, the people who make up your current workforce are of more importance and value than those that have left. Focusing energy on them is, therefore, a smart investment.
- Develop talent building to improve talent retention: The Great Resignation’s challenges include the fact that most businesses now buy rather than build. Since there is fierce competition for these jobs, building your existing workforce is a highly recommended viable option. Create trainee programs and managerial training for your employees; don’t wait until the best hands are gone before you start. The time to face the fear of losing trained employees is now. To put it quite frankly, you may not be able to stop everyone from leaving, but if you train everyone, you’ll be left with competent hands even when some leave.
- Adopt a replacement strategy that works: In most cases, filling the talent gap left by the relocated employees is inevitable. There are two significant approaches a company can take to expedite this; either look inwards to promote a capable existing employee or look outwards to attract new talent. Promoting existing employees will be easier if a company has invested in employees on every level. In a situation where this hasn’t been the case, the next route to take is to recruit externally. Most organisations will struggle to swiftly fill their skills gap due to the intense competition for talent and the seeming brain drain; however, recruitment firms like Jobberman, have a ready pipeline of qualified candidates in different fields, making that replacement swift and seamless.
The Japa train is progressing swiftly enough to put a remarkable dent in the skilled labour market in Nigeria, which means it is time for strategic action.
Jobberman Nigeria is rightly positioned and equipped to help companies close their talent gap so they can continue to scale.
Please visit jobberman.com/employer/japa for more information on how we can be of help.
You may not be able to stop your next employee from ‘Japa-ing’, but you can prevent a prolonged talent gap in your organisation by acting now to get ahead of this wave!