What’s going on with landing a job in Liberia for a qualified MBA holder with a specialty in Human Resources from a respected Ghanaian university who chose to beat a path home quickly to land a decent job? After all, his MBA certificate is from the University of Ghana Legon recognizing completion of the MBA degree at the private Wisconsin International University. And with a concentration on Human Resources management to boot, which is a professional competency reportedly in demand in Liberia. This is my story — 9 months back home submitting hundreds of applications, being short-listed and landing a few interviews, for HR positions, and no job. Are these positions filled by competent Liberians, or do they end up taken by expats? Or, is the recruitment system itself so opaque, so riddled with nepotism and petty corruption, that qualifications fade from consideration?
Analyzing these factors led me to identify three principal causes: no functioning system to recruit for new positions or promote based on merit; lack of communication of job vacancies to ensure competition and equity; and disregard of international Best Practices in HR management.
Ten years after Liberia began its reconstruction with an elected government, we continue to function using the “legacy HR system” rather than one based on criteria, qualifications and merit. Liberia’s tortuous history confined hiring in ways to favor members of tiny elite, as we all know — what I call the “legacy HR system.” Regrettably, this system lives on with devastating consequences for those outside the inner group who are systematically excluded from key positions in a decision-making atmosphere of nods and winks. To make matters more poignant, those hired often hail from the US with their respected degrees and acknowledged competency – but what about those who either had no choice of a US advanced education or even those (like me) who made it to Ghana at least?
No communication is the staple of Liberian organizational hiring. Few know the HR processes being used in making a hiring decision – if anything is written – leaving a cloudy atmosphere thick with suspicions. I have applied for many positions with a CV containing pertinent job experience along with a respected degree, professional references from both Liberians and expat colleagues, and in most cases, never hear a word. When I make the short-list (when there is one), organizations disregard standard international HR procedures and seemingly do what they want. There are exceptions of course – some USAID-funded implementing organizations follow U.S. HR policies in Liberia; but overall, chaos reigns both inside government and among private employers.
What Liberian manager would choose to follow international HR standards in hiring when the legacy system can get the hiring done quickly without cumbersome competition and irritating rule-following? And there might even be a monetary incentive too! The legacy system is like a virus – antibiotics are ineffective leaving it to fester for years. We see the consequences everywhere: widespread corruption especially in procurement and hiring, flagrant inefficiencies in organizational performance and worse, hopelessness for those locked out. The solution: top-level decision makers in an elected government who enforce the use of the existing merit-based system developed as part of the CSA reform, and private employers scrutinized by HR watchdogs for following standard HR practices. Short of dramatic action, the legacy virus will spread.
Underlying these three causes is the lack of professional HR ethics and good practices. Where are the job descriptions, reference and background checks, clear criteria, technical input that influences hiring decisions – in short, the normal step-by-step process HR stipulates? The job announcements placed in local newspapers at great expense are, in reality, mere formalities. The legacy system continues to favor applicants based on political, religious, regional and even family affiliations. And the economic and social advancement of our beloved country limps along as a consequence. As for me, I’m not giving up yet. Although my family was not able to help me much financially, I’m fortunate to have benefited from an excellent education I worked hard for with the little. I feel obligated to give back and help Liberia evolve as a country where hiring follows international HR standards and we all advance professionally.