Factory with textile machines

Given the range and nature of proposed research questions, the availability of data and the challenges of access that were expected, this research project chose a mixed-methods methodological approach. The selected design is part of a family of explanatory sequential mixed-methods designs. Specifically we deployed the following methods in the sequence described below:

  1. Literature reviews and database searches
  2. Extensive qual. & quant. scoping research (several months)
  3. Large-N sample surveys of African workers in Angola and Ethiopia
  4. Firm survey & interviews with company managers
  5. In-depth follow-up qualitative research and ‘tracking’ with life histories

The research team completed extensive qualitative scoping research, desk reviews and two large-scale surveys of workers in Ethiopia (839 worker interviews) and Angola (682). Qualitative data collection continued until July 2018, firm management surveys were completed in 2018, and subsequently additional longitudinal data were collected through phone surveys in late 2018 and early 2019. Data were then processed, analysed and findings disseminated from 2019 onwards.

The core project was then followed up by a study of the localisation and upgrading of the management workforce in the textile and apparel industry of Ethiopia. This second study built on the first project as one of the key sources of background evidence, particularly on labour relations in Ethiopia’s foreign-owned factories and the role of localization of management jobs in the process. The main aim of this follow-up study was to develop a clearer picture of the constraints on, and opportunities for, filling low- and middle-level management or supervisory positions with Ethiopian staff in apparel industries. This study focused on the following questions:

  1. What difficulties do firms in the export-oriented light manufacturing sector in Ethiopia face in finding and hiring suitable local managers?
  2. How are organizational and managerial capabilities transferred to new local managers at factory level?

The research consisted primarily of qualitative research, with interviews with senior managers, Ethiopian middle managers, government officials, industry experts, as well as a firm survey.

What we did: summary

  • From late 2015 to the end of 2016, with updates throughout the life of the project: desk reviews
  • From 2016 Until February 2017: Background research, including key informant interviews and scoping for fieldwork in both Angola and Ethiopia
  • August 2016 – March 2017: Quantitative worker survey in Angola
  • March 2017- August 2017: Quantitative worker survey in Ethiopia
  • September 2018: Firm management surveys completed in Angola and Ethiopia
  • November 2018: Follow-up qualitative research completed in Angola and Ethiopia
  • May 2019: Main reports completed
  • June 2019: Main dissemination events completed in Angola, Ethiopia, UK and China.
  • Follow-up research on management workers in Ethiopia’s apparel industry started in January 2020 and fieldwork was completed in September 2021. Report completed and disseminated in October 2022.


  • Main IDCEA project: “Chinese firms and employment dynamics in Africa” – July 2015–July 2019
  • Follow-up project on management workforce localization and upgrading in Ethiopia’s Manufacturing between November 2019 and September 2022.
Portrait of worker with gloves
Portrait of worker with gloves – © Davide Scalenghe

Principal investigator

Carlos Oya (SOAS University of London)
Email: co2@soas.ac.uk
Telephone: +44(0)20 7898 4566


  • Florian Schaefer (SOAS, now at KCL)
  • Weiwei Chen (SOAS, now at OU)
  • Fernandes Wanda (Universidade Agostinho Neto, Angola)
  • Hao Qi (Renmin University)
  • Xiaoyang Tang (Tsinghua University)
  • Christina Wolf (now at Herfortshire)
  • Tim Pringle (SOAS)
  • Dic Lo (SOAS)

Collaborating institutions

  • Renmin University (Beijing)
  • Universidade Agostinho Neto (Luanda)
  • Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute at the Ethiopian Economics Association (Addis Ababa)
  • Forum for Social Studies (Addis Ababa)
  • EconInsight (Ethiopia)
  • various individual scholars from other institutions in China, USA and the United Kingdom.

Discussion panel on research design and methods

This panel titled “Researching Chinese firms and employment in Africa: Insights and lessons from fieldwork” was held as part of the the Industrial Development, Construction and Employment in Africa (IDCEA): A Comparative Analysis project on 21 September 2017. This panel event saw researchers with extensive fieldwork experience studying the realities of Chinese firms and their employment practices in Africa come together to discuss lessons from recent fieldwork conducted in Ethiopia, Angola and other settings. The speakers presented on methodological challenges and solutions for surveys of firms, with a focus on employment issues and investment decisions. They debated common perceptions and biases about the practices of companies in diverse contexts in Africa.