The team at Gebeya is democratizing the way talents are being hired through its automated martketplace.
BizWatch Nigeria spoke with the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Gebeya, Amadou Daffe, and he provided insights on the present and future gaps in Africa’s labour force. He explained the role talent marketplaces are playing in the reduction of unemployment in Africa.
What has the team at Gebeya been up to in the past four years?
Gebeya is a freelance marketplace trying to democratize the way talents are hired across the continent. We hope to be bigger than Upwork, which is a benchmark.
We launched our platform, which is our flagship product. In the past four years, we have been matching freelancers with clients manually; understanding the market, what customers are looking for and recently, we launched our platform two to three months ago.
Now, the platform is automated and clients can go to the website to make a request and we match immediately. There’s a little bit of manual curation because things are still happening behind the scenes like negotiating pricing and we hope that in the next two to three months, everything should be more fluid in terms of automation so we can eliminate the manual process totally.
What kind of opportunities is Gebeya creating for African talents?
The power of our platform is in the matching. Africa does not have a talent problem, it has a matching problem. If there is a job request, we may have like 100 to 200 applicants and it takes too much time for people to get the right candidate. Through research, we have figured out that on average, between 2,000 to 3,000 jobs are open across the continent but accessing them is not easy for talents.
Organisations are hiring front and backend developers and digital marketing and so on and we are delivering the ability to match talents who have already proven themselves through our vetting process.
What problem is the automation of your platform addressing?
The platform has already been automated and we are at 90 per cent completion. The problem was that we were working with the two-side marketplace where we have clients on one side and talents on the other side and there was sort of the hurdle with searching, meeting, validating and negotiating.
The clients come and search for the talents, request for a meeting, validate the talent and go to the negotiation process. By collecting enough data from both individuals, it helps to know how to best optimise the automation process.
What benefits do organisations gain from engaging freelancers compared with full-time employees?
The African continent has not matured to understand the concept of freelancing yet. The concept of freelancing is very matured in Europe but in Africa, a little bit of education needs to be done. Traditionally, employers want to see people in their workplace to know they are actually working. There is a big challenge in that. What we tell our clients is that you can have your core team in people that work for you permanently but every now and then you need to surround your permanent team with contracts. For instance, if you built a digital product and you need a digital marketing expert, you may want to hire one full-time joining your team or hire a part-time expert. That is one of the first benefits it has; that you can have your core team and augment them with freelancers.
The second thing is pricing. Whenever you hire a permanent employee in Africa, we have noticed that is a tendency of complacency at some point to the fact that sometimes, it is very hard to fire someone that is a permanent employee in Africa. If you fire someone, the government laws are more lenient on the person that was fired in terms of severance pay and others. We are saying if you hire a freelancer, you don’t have to worry about that as you can let them go whenever you want. When you hire a freelancer, there are no healthcare and benefits like cars, which SMEs may not be able to offer you meanwhile freelancers could be consultants who are already taking care of themselves. Those are the different things we are trying to let companies who are afraid of hiring freelancers to understand.
What does Gebeya do to ensure that workers’ right to fair pay are protected?
Gebeya’s freelance marketplace allows talents to set their own rate and we add a percentage on top of it, between 15 percent to 20 percent, depending on the quality of the talent. Think of ride-hailing apps; the rate of the ride is based on the number of kilometers and Uber will put its percentage. We are purely a marketplace like that and we don’t dictate any rate. Some talents who have more affordable rates will have a better chance of being matched in Africa. If you charge $20 an hour, you have a high likelihood of being matched against someone who is charging $40 per hour in the African market perspective. We educate the talent to make sure going too high may not be a necessarily wise thing to do in the marketplace but the more you get hired. The more you have experience within the marketplace and people getting to know you are really worth $48 an hour, then they may be able to hire you that way.
What screening do you take freelancers through to ensure organizations get the best professionals?
We identify consultants who are ready to work and onboard them. During the onboarding, we let them know the kind of clients they will be meeting. We encourage them to have the right mindset and attitude, especially integrity. On occasions where you know a specific technology stack and process but you want to navigate to another one, we may offer you some upskilling opportunity. For instance, if you understand Microsoft Cloud and some clients are asking for Google Cloud or AWS, we may be able to upskill you.
We don’t actually train you on your core skills; we only train you up to the level of soft skills that you require to be able to market yourself.
Freelancing does not offer them employment benefits. How can these professionals create employment benefit plans for themselves?
Professional freelancing is latent in Africa. There is a lot of infrastructure that we need to build prior to this, but unfortunately, we have to build these things at the same time.
For example, very few insurance companies in Africa will give you insurance if you have short-term contracts.
They want you to have employment benefits or a contract from a company, showing that the person will be working with the company for a long time.
What we are doing is trying to find partners in the countries where talents are. We have approached micro-finance institutions that understand the future of work and let them know that employers cannot provide permanent jobs for everyone; it doesn’t work that way. We ask them to come up with how much they can charge short-term job contract holders. Some of these companies are so rigid but future start-ups should be able to provide some of these microfinance loans or insurance for short-term lease agreements.
There are reports that there are discriminations against African talents on freelancing platforms. How true is this?
I don’t think they discriminate against Africans. The majority of freelancers on Upwork are from Asia. Upwork is 20 years old and when it started, Africa was not in the picture. The small group of Africans there are in the numbers game; like 10 Indian engineers versus 2 Nigerian engineers.
Specifically, I heard that some Nigerians on the platform are not trusted. Even within Nigeria, some companies don’t trust Nigerian freelancers because they have the tendency of chasing money rather than opportunities.
Gebeya is an Africa-first platform and we have no right to discriminate. We actually accept African talents. We have opportunities on our platform rather than going to Upwork where there are millions of people.
There are up to six professional areas for talents on your platform. Are you considering expanding to accommodate more professionals in other fields?
We started with tech talents but when we got to the market, we saw organisations searching for business development and sales talents because the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shift in remote work. Why do you need a salesperson to sit in an office if they can do the work digitally? Start-ups are also looking to hire CFOs or a good accountant in Africa but young people who are getting out of school don’t even know how to use Excel Sheets.
There are opportunities to hire accountants and even lawyers. When you set up a company in Africa, you may need a lawyer to do due diligence and work with investors, among others. These verticals may happen in a year or two when we start getting funding. Eventually, we will have more than 20 verticals.
Have you discovered any area of expertise that is in high demand but not readily available?
Presently, a gap exists for senior professionals in verticals either in software development or digital marketing. There are gaps in senior roles.
For instance, Andela fired all the junior developers because it takes between two to three years for an intermediate junior to become a senior. For now, we have that gap that needs to be filled but unfortunately, we can’t cheat time; we still need to let our talents grow into seniors. That is what almost every organization is suffering from; finding senior persons that will stay and not go work for bigger platforms is very hard.
The second futuristics talent gap that will happen is around Artificial Intelligence; anything with machine learning and data science. This is particularly a problem for start-ups, SMEs and banks.
Most of the banks understand that data is what they will use to build more business cases and they need machine learning engineers and data engineers and so that gap needs to be filled in the next two to three years around AI. Cybersecurity is another one because, the more we are building, the more opportunities people have with moving money around. Those are the two areas we need to keep our eye on and build talents for.
Is a marketplace like yours a solution to high unemployment rate in Africa?
Actually, we have no choice because the gig economy market size is $1.3 trillion and most of it comes from the United States while Africa only accounts for about 1.4 percent of that $1.3 trillion. By Gig, I don’t mean only freelancing but including other jobs like riding cabs. If you look at the US, 35 percent of the labour force is labelled ‘Gig Workers’. There is no government in Africa that is going to provide jobs for all the unemployed; we know that. That aren’t enough industries that can hire massively in Africa so we need hundreds of more freelancing marketplaces like Gebeya. I really think freelancing is a sure way out of unemployment because it has been proven already that it provides jobs for young Africans. Some people argue that it is not permanent work but if I’m getting more than $5,000 in three months, I’m getting more than what I will earn working for a company for 12 months.
It is just the way we adapt to work now so it is critical to have more freelance marketplaces on the continent in the next few years.
Are there other ways to address high unemployment on the continent?
If you look at history, manufacturing is another way but China has taken over that industry. The other thing could be coding but this will require a little bit of freelancing. I don’t see any other industry that can transform the unemployment rate in Africa. When Uber came to Kenya, the number of people that got jobs in a year because of Uber was tremendous. Even in Ethiopia, local ride-hailing platforms provided jobs for 50 000 people in two years by just riding cars, making about $50 a day. These are the things that will transform the continent quickly.
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