Solving for different generational needs in a post-COVID-19 world of work.
The key to solving today’s complex workplace challenges – which include retaining critical skills and developing new working models that suit multiple generations – is to not use a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Millennials want instant gratification; Baby Boomers want security and ownership in the form of shares and retirement funding, and Gen Zs want a trip to save the planet. We need to consistently ask ourselves what the middle ground is to creating mutually-beneficial relationships, and solve for different generational needs.
Several studies point to South Africa battling to keep critical skills in the country. The African Youth Study recently found that more than half of young Africans are considering emigrating to another country in the next three years to secure employment and educational opportunities for their future. Another study by the Inclusive Society Institute found that 11.13% of South Africans with higher education were seriously considering emigrating to another country.
What is needed to address the skills shortage in South Africa?
Engage employees and promote learning
We have been told that degrees and diplomas are going to get us through and make us successful … except this is no longer true. We need to be innovative to keep the newer generation of workers in the workforce engaged, including Millennials and Gen Zs, affectionately referred to as Zoomers, who want to be in control of their own working journey.
Old Mutual Insure has developed a pioneering solution with a skills initiative called ‘Curate your Career’, which allows employees to be in the driver’s seat of their own careers and helps to bring the company’s learning motto to life: Learn, Unlearn and Re-Learn. At the same time, the business recognises that its strategy is fluid and the skills of today are not going to be the same as those of tomorrow.
The old way of doing things was to ask, “What has the employer done for me?” A new way of thinking is to say, “What am I doing for myself?” The Curate Your Career initiative closes the gap between where the employee is and where they need to be in the future, based on their own inputs, which are benchmarked against the company skills perspective, the local context and a global view.
For this initiative, Old Mutual Insure acquired a licence for every employee for the online learning platform Udemy, which gives users access to over 5,000 online courses.
Whether the employee wants to learn a new skill to help them with their side hustle or to build on their technical insurance skills, we are enabling them to have a different learning experience outside of the traditional 8 am to 5 pm job. Our employees are also given bespoke, role-specific, curated learning paths to help them navigate their careers at no cost to them.
While this may help to keep the younger generation engaged, what about retaining critical IT and insurance skills, which is so crucial for the industry?
No-one can deny that we have a problem in the IT and actuarial skills space, for example, in our industry and country. It is not so much a lack of talent and skills, rather than critical skills leaving our shores, or a case of fishing from the same pond. There is a tendency for a vicious incestuous cycle in the corporate world where the same people with the same skills move between employers for a small increase in salary.
While Old Mutual Insure does offer bursaries to help upskill existing talent in the company, we recognise the need to also help with this problem by upskilling talent for the industry at large.
We have partnered with Graduate Institute of Financial Sciences (GIFS) to give almost 350 employed and unemployed South African employees and youth the opportunity to participate in a 12-month INSETA-accredited insurance learnership programme. Participants will gain valuable workplace experience while completing programmes including short-term insurance, general management, and contact centre operations.
Address remote working
A hybrid-working model is not without its challenges. Trends suggest that many employees are not sold on the idea of returning to the office, yet most companies are now adopting policies that see employees needing to be behind the desks for a minimum of three days per week.
Often customer-facing companies don’t have the infrastructure to support all employees working from home as well as serving customers optimally. A hybrid working model can help in curbing employee resistance to return to the office, but we have found that we also need to make the office as comfortable and accessible as possible to give people a reason to return.
To this end, we have heeded the call from employees to make the office environment more conducive to having fun and creating opportunities for collaboration.
One of the initiatives that we have introduced is an on-site wellness centre, which includes access to nurses and doctors, so that employees don’t have to queue at public clinics. It also includes a movement room that prioritises physical and mental wellness. The centre is all encompassing with beauty and spa facilities as well.
To sum up, we have embraced a growth mindset with the understanding that learning is a lifelong experience and a meta skill.
Sungeetha Sewpersad is the Human Capital Executive at Old Mutual lnsure, overseeing 2500 employees at one of South Africa’s leading insurers.