Everything You Need to Know About Working in Ghana (2023)

  • David Thyne

    Sharing expat experiences about Accra and the way of life in Ghana was really helpful to me. Thanks to InterNations!

Employment in Ghana

The Success Story of Ghana

If you have read some of our Country Guides detailing the economies of other nations, you may have realized that oftentimes, we refer to the consequences of the worldwide financial crisis of 2008/9. This article on working in Ghana is very different in that respect: while many countries toiled with recuperating their weakened economies, Ghana’s economy showed little signs of slowing down and reached double-digit growth in 2011. Depending on which sources you trust, the Ghanaian economy grew by 13–20% that year, placing it among the top ranks worldwide. While this trend slowed down in 2012, Ghana was still among the top 15 countries in terms of economic growth.

As is the case in many other developing nations, the services sector is the main driving force behind the national economy and also the sector in which most people working in Ghana have found employment. Below, however, we take a look at some of the sectors that have helped shape a positive image of Ghana in the business world.

An Important Sector: Natural Resources

Ghana’s history of sound economic management is surely an important factor in the sustained growth of its economy during the years of worldwide economic turbulences. If you also take into consideration which sectors are the most important and lucrative the country’s great performance is less of a surprise, but no less respectable. The production of gold and diamonds — and by extension, Ghana’s mining sector — continue to be important pillars of the Ghanaian economy. Other natural resources that abound on the national territory and put bread on the tables of those working in Ghana’s mines include bauxite and manganese ore, to name but two. Sectors and industries related to mining and oil production, such as aluminum smelting or oil refinery, are equally important and booming.

The discovery of large oil reserves just off the coast promises to further boost the economic performance of the nation. Oil companies have already begun working in the Jubilee oil field in the end of 2010. The result of this was a big growth of the GDP from 2011 until 2013.

Among the most widely available and easily accessible natural resources in many parts of the country is timber. As about a third of the nation is covered by woods and forests, the forestry sector keeps large numbers of Ghanaians employed. However, severe deforestation has made it necessary for the Ghanaian government to slow down the enthusiasm for lumbering the companies working in Ghana’s forests have shown in the past to preserve the country’s national beauty and fragile ecosystems.

The Biggest Employment Sector

Ghana’s abundance of natural resources may be an important factor in terms of GDP, but when it comes to employment, another sector is the leading force. More than half of the population is working in the agricultural sector. Not only do the men and women working in Ghana’s fields and plantations ensure the availability of staple foods such as grains, rice, cassavas, yams, and various types of livestock, but also supply the world market with first-class cocoa, one of the main exports of Ghana.

A Surprisingly Popular Tourist Destination

In contrast to some other countries in West Africa, Ghana has long enjoyed political stability, a generally high level of safety and a very positive image throughout the world. These factors, as well as some obvious ones as the prevalence of English and, of course, the natural and cultural treasures the country boasts, make it a popular tourist destination. Ghana’s hospitality sector provides relatively secure jobs due to the steady influx of visitors nearly year-round.

The Relationship between Ghana and China

It is safe to say that for people Ghanaians, none of the nation’s international ties is as fruitful or lucrative as that to China. For more than 50 years, Ghana has had excellent economic and diplomatic ties to the Asian giant, which have been fruitful for both parties both in the past and present. With the continued boom of the world’s third largest country, companies and people working in Ghana reap the benefits of substantial Chinese investments in the national economy, particularly in the manufacturing and trade sectors as well as the Ghanaian infrastructure. These investments are also one of the causes for the more than respectable growth figures the nation boasted in the past years — which is obviously a definite bonus both for the people of Ghana and the Chinese stakeholders. Furthermore, China is the largest exporter to Ghana, supplying the country with machinery and raw material that oftentimes make working in Ghana possible in the first place.

Ghana: Economic Challenges

Unemployment and the Informal Sector

While a lot of the information we have presented to you in part one of this article may be very positive, Ghana also experiences numerous problems. One of the most pressing is certainly unemployment. The growing rate of urbanization without the creation of an adequate or proportional number of jobs, coupled with the relatively high growth rate of the population, has caused unemployment to be extremely high. Young people are oftentimes off worst, with some estimates suggesting that only as few as two percent being able to find employment, with the rest frequently engaging in activities in the informal sector to make ends meet. The official government definition of this part of the population includes those of 18 to 35 years of age — about a quarter of the population. The problem, however, also affects younger teenagers. The government has, however, undertaken a number of countermeasures, most notably the National Youth Employment Program spearheaded by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, in order to see to the alleviation of this pressing issue.

As is the nature of the informal sector (a term that first popped up in the early 1970s in research papers on Ghana), there are very little official sources documenting its value generation or the number of people engaging in businesses within the sector. However, it is estimated that up to 80% of the workforce of more than 11 million find employment in the informal sector. The range of activities is very wide; typical ones include unskilled labor, small shops and vendors, and similar lines of work, often related to the services sector. The problems this astounding fact poses are obvious. Not only is informal employment fairly inefficient — four fifths of the population contribute a mere 40% of the GDP, according to estimates — but they also rarely contribute to the national budget by paying taxes (see below). Furthermore, with no official recognition of their jobs, Ghanaians in the informal sector rarely have any pension fund or other social security benefits.

Infrastructural Issues

Ghana, while being one of the most powerful nations in the region in economic terms, was not quite able to adjust their infrastructure to accommodate the needs of its booming economies. Shortages of electricity and water are possibly the most pressing here, with blackouts being experienced on a fairly regular basis — sometimes for prolonged stretches of time and all across the nation. Addressing these issues is among the main responsibilities of the Ghanaian government so as to keep the growth rate positive and the nation prosperous.

Illegal Immigration

Ghana’s leading economic position in West Africa, its stable government and history of peace among the various ethnic communities of the country have made it one of the more obvious choices for people of neighboring nations looking for a better future their home countries cannot provide for various reasons. Many of these people, whose numbers are sizeable to say the least, enter Ghana illegally, often working as unskilled labor. In an effort to reduce the influx of illegal immigrants and to ensure employment possibilities for the large portion of the Ghanaian population without a job, the government has tightened entry and work permit regulations for foreigners. The slogan of the Ghana Immigration Service — “Friendship with Vigilance” — is probably testament enough. We have taken a closer look into this topic in our article on moving to Ghana — after all, residency in the country is impossible without a work permit.

Business Etiquette in Ghana

Time’s a Factor

If you did successfully land a work permit for Ghana, you should brief yourself on the most important facts to keep in mind about the Ghanaian workplace before you start your expat assignment. One key fact, which is probably particularly important to remember for those of you who are used to a rigid and loaded schedule, is the concept of time. Flexibility is vital here, as punctuality is not seen as overly important. You should always try to leave a time buffer between meetings to be able to react to any eventualities. However, as flexible as the local understanding of time may be, it is important to always schedule appointments ahead.

Other Key Values

  • As in numerous other countries, you will have a hard time separating business from your personal life. Getting to know your colleagues and business partners is very important, and topics which are almost always brought up also include personal ones such as family, health, or social life. In fact, family life is still one of the main social pillars in the Ghanaian society and valued very highly. When getting to know new people in your work life, take the time and get to know one another a little bit. You should also not be surprised if your initial meetings with business partners contain little to no talk about business.
  • Hierarchy and the respect a higher social status commands are very important, and not addressing higher-ups and elders in the appropriate manner are a ready source of social faux pas in Ghana. When in doubt, make a point of asking the first colleague you are introduced to about the proper ways of addressing people around you.
  • Professional and academic titles are just as important as the hierarchical addresses mentioned above. If someone you meet around the workplace has credentials, you are sure to find out. You are expected to address these people with their respective titles.
  • You might already be familiar with the concept of ‘face’, i.e. honor, dignity, and good reputation. A possible loss of face is horrid to a Ghanaian and should not be taken lightly. As the individual is subordinate to the family in Ghanaian culture, loss of face will also directly affect the next of kin. If you have somehow maneuvered your way into a situation where your counterpart could lose face, you will realize it by the silence that will fill the room. This is the common reaction in situations like these; try not to break or fill the silence. As causing loss of face to others is also dreaded, the conversation style in Ghana is rather indirect.
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