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.
This is the view of Sungeetha Sewpersad, Old Mutual lnsure Human Capital Executive, who is responsible for overseeing 2500 employees at one of South Africa’s leading insurers.
“Millennials want instant gratification; Babyboomers want security and ownership in the form of shares and retirement funding and Gen Z’s 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,” says Sewpersad.
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?
Engaging employees and promoting 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,” says Sewpersad. “We need to be innovative to keep the newer generation of workers in the workforce engaged, including millennials and Gen Z’s, affectionately referred to as Zoomers, who want to be in control of their own working journey.”
She explains that Old Mutual Insure has developed a pioneering solve 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 is not going to be the same as 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, the company acquired a license for every employee for the online learning platform Udemy, which gives users access to over 5000 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 8am-5pm job,” she says. “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?
“I don’t think anyone 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,” says Sewpersad, adding that 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 the company does offer bursaries to help upskill existing talent in the company, Sewpersad says they 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.”
Addressing remote working
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.
Sewpersad acknowledges that a hybrid-working model is not without its challenges.
“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.”
She explains that Old Mutual Insure has 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 que 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.
“Old Mutual Insure has embraced a growth mindset with the understanding that learning is a lifelong experience and a meta skill,” concludes Sewpersad.