Human Resource Managers in East Africa Need Better Preparation, Study Finds

In a recent survey, a team from the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) and Management Sciences for Health found that human resource (HR) managers in four East African countries—Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—want and need better preparation to carry out their responsibilities, which include recruitment and deployment of staff, HR planning and policy, and training. The study recommended seeking professionals for these roles and providing short courses in HR management and leadership. For the long term, education in HR management needs to be reviewed and strengthened throughout the region.

Those interviewed had significant HR responsibilities, but most indicated that they were unprepared for them. A doctor in Kenya asserted that “pre-service courses for doctors do not prepare one for HR roles…. I had to buy materials, read them, and attend short courses in management in order to improve my managerial skills.” 

Although survey respondents were highly educated overall (73 percent had university education) and more than one-third had studied management as part of their education, they expressed the desire for more training. They were asked about the areas of personnel policy, performance management, training, HR data systems, strategy development, and leadership and management in general. They were especially interested in management and leadership development, employee tracking systems, HIV & AIDS workplace programs, and performance appraisal. 

A typical response was this one from Uganda: “The HR role is so wide and needs detailed attention, and yet on the job description, it is just a bullet.” 

Understaffing was identified as a major problem by the majority of survey respondents, especially in Tanzania. Other challenges cited were lack of staff satisfaction, lack of skilled staff, poor working conditions, and staff grievances. 

A doctor from Kenya commented, “We have no retention strategy through better pay, appropriate staffing norms, working and retirement incentive packages in Kenya’s health ministries. The private and NGO worlds pride themselves on this.”   

The survey focused on the public sector at the central level, in regional offices, and district offices (28 percent), and in hospitals and other health facilities (34 percent). Many of the 96 people interviewed were clinical staff (56 percent were nurses, clinical officers, or doctors).