Oops: What a job posting that was!
‘I was working at the Nokia research centre in Nairobi arranging a major innovation conference. Ministers from 50 African nations were coming to this event and we had been preparing diligently for six months, but just a few days prior to the opening, we realised that we’d need five more chauffeurs.
I placed an ad in the Daily Nation, the main local title, as there were no electronic job search channels in Kenya, nor did people have email addresses, let alone personal devices for accessing services.
Well, the paper was an effective channel: in two days, we received 5,687 applications by letter, and another similar batch trickled in later as well.
It was immediately obvious that there was no point in opening those envelopes – it would have been impossible to choose fairly from such a huge number of applications.
I’d been working in Africa for more than a decade by then, and I should have known better. No Kenyan would have made such a blunder, they’d have simply phoned a pal. Just like I wound up asking a familiar driver if he could conjure up five chauffeurs for me – and five calls later it was sorted.
But the situation remained on my mind. Was this the best way, considering that jobs were scarce and the markets full of people with little education. It turned our, for example, that in Nigeria, where civil service jobs are considered very desirable, a single vacancy can attract up to two million applications.
The only conclusion to draw from this was that the system didn’t work. It also spurred unhealthy practices like nepotism and corruption.
When the Nokia research centre was eventually shut down, my colleague Jussi Hinkkanen and I set up a company to tackle this massive issue in labour market matching.
Fuzu is a free, AI-based mobile service that teaches users useful job-search skills and, through testing, helps them understand their personal strengths. At the same time, it matches them with corporate demand: large volumes are screened for employees with potential, freeing employers to make the final selection without going through a laborious application process. The service also anonymises applicants with respect to age, gender or ethnic background, for example.
We started in 2013, and Fuzu is now the fastest-growing employment search service in Africa. I myself stepped away from its day-to-day operations when I moved back to Finland with my family.
Africans are super-efficient and creative users of mobile services. They’ve leapfrogged over many intermediate stages of technological development and recognised that the efficiency of the labour market increases when a person’s background factors no longer serve as the most significant determinant in recruitment.’
This article has been published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 30 (issuu.com), April 2022.