SkilledAfricans: Tinder for the workplace?

Story highlights

  • SkilledAfricans is a professional social network that offers training and recruitment
  • It has 750,000 members and aims for 20 million by 2020
  • The system offers quick "matchmaking" opportunities between job seekers and employers

(CNN)At first glance, it seems to represent a cross between LinkedIn and Tinder. You can network with other professionals while barely lifting a finger -- swipe right on the smartphone if you want to connect, left to continue browsing.

But SkilledAfricans, a pan-continental social network that boasts 750,000 members, aims to achieve more than just professional introductions or casual encounters.
    The aim is to "increase knowledge, and prove knowledge," says CEO and co-founder Dr. Nicolas Bussard.
    The website and app -- which launches this week -- are designed to give users the tools to build their skill-set and certify their resumes -- essential in today's job market.
    Africa has the highest rate of population growth of any continent according to the U.N., yet unemployment and underemployment are significant problems in many countries, particularly for younger generations. In South Africa, for example, 52 percent of people aged 15 to 24 are jobless.

    Free online training

    Users on the app can make a profile, add new connections, take courses, read African news and browse job offers.
    SkilledAfricans hopes to correct this through training and self-promotion. The platform offers over 400 free online courses, covering topics from assertiveness to Microsoft Office. Prospective employers can see the modules users have completed and invite them to take skills-based tests for the jobs they're looking to fill.
    "I wanted to make money, but I also wanted to build something that would be useful to people," Bussard said. "We're a mix of social network, training platform and recruitment platform."
    "Companies find it so hard to recruit people in Africa, that sometimes they can just overlook people who do have the skills. We want people (in Africa) to become almost like freelancers, to sell their services," Bussard added.
    CEO, Dr Nicolas Bussard
    Born to an "extremely poor" family in rural Cameroon and adopted by French-Swiss parents, Bussard moved to England to study at Coventry University, where he became a lecturer in mathematics and e-commerce by the age of 21.
    Ever determined, the home-schooled entrepreneur completed a PhD by the age of 24 before launching himself into start-ups. Among a string of businesses prior to SkilledAfricans, the 39-year-old founded Feedzilla in 2004, one of the world's first news aggregators.
    Tired of the company's management tussles and wanting to make a difference, Bussard co-launched LinkedAfricans in 2012. Two years later he renamed it SkilledAfricans, as "people always thought we were affiliated with LinkedIn."

    Built for Africa

    It's not just the training provision that differentiates the site from its American counterpart, he emphasizes.
    "I don't see LinkedIn as a competitor, because they don't focus on Africa," he said. "We wanted to give people access to a platform that's pan-African and built for them. We want people to come to our platform who would not sign up on LinkedIn."
    As well as graduates and managers, the platform targets support staff and tradesmen, who Bussard says aren't otherwise catered for. So far, 8,000 companies are signed up, who can recruit users individually or contract the company's talent-sourcing services. For one media client, Bussard used an online English test to reduce a pool of 4,000 resumes to just 250.
    "Headhunting is way too expensive for most African companies," he explains. "What we'd like to do is make it cheaper by providing verified CVs."
    There's one app Bussard is happy to be compared to: "We wanted to apply the Tinder concept to recruitment in Africa. We are a matchmaker," he said.

    'Big deal'

    While all the online courses are free, SkilledAfricans also offers paid-for classroom training. Plans are underway to offer free courses from Ivorian university lecturers, with paid examinations.
    "The idea is to allow people who cannot spend the money to go to a good university to take the course from their home," said Bussard. The start-up has so far trained over 2,000 people in physical classrooms and 200,000 people online, he adds.
    Time management is one of the site's most popular courses.
    But the entrepreneur hopes this is just the beginning -- the company aims to have 20 million members by 2020. While Bussard admits this goal is "ambitious", he has an ace up his sleeve.
    He has signed a deal with a Chinese mobile manufacturer to have the app pre-installed on their smartphones, which are sold "in millions" to Africa.
    "It's a big deal. It's a huge deal", he says. "Most people in Africa don't own a computer, but most own a mobile phone, and most -- at least the ones we're targeting -- own a smartphone."
    Income comes from online advertising, physical training and recruitment, which Bussard believes will be the strongest revenue driver.
    The start-up is currently seeking investment -- together with co-founder Emmanuel Henao, with whom Bussard parted ways last year, it has so far spent around $400,000 -- largely on advertising, wages and research and development.
    "We've spent so much time on R&D," says Bussard, who has nearly 15 years of start-up experience. "It's very important that before you hit the market, big time, you need to have the right product. So many entrepreneurs make the same mistake."