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Young people must be intentional about personal development – Niyi Yusuf

Niyi Yusuf is the Board Chairman, Junior Achievement Nigeria, and Managing Partner at Verraki, a business and technology solutions firm. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Endurance Okafor, he speaks on the post-pandemic realities and the future of work, and what young Nigerians can do to future-proof their careers.

What is shaping the future of work? What role will technology play?

Historically, waves of innovation arising from significant breakthroughs in technology have led to dramatic shifts in the workplace. We witnessed a significant shift in way of working with the advent of the first factory (a cotton mill) in Britain occasioned by the first industrial revolution that was enabled by the breakthrough in mechanical production. The second wave – changes in the way we work – was heralded by multiple innovations and introduction of steam power, rail and steel. The third wave of innovation, associated with the introduction of internal combustion engines and electricity led to further changes in the way we work. Introduction of Aviation led to significant changes in the way of working as it allowed fast commuting across cities and nations. Recently, the advent of the internet, Personal Computers and digital networks have shaped the way we work in multiple ways including allowing for personal transactions by individual customers. As we march into the future, the covid-19 pandemic has shown us a glimpse of how a combination of pandemic, digitalization and social media can lead to the global gig workforce, remote working and digital transactions.

Seven disruptors are affecting the workplace; the omnipresence of tech; the rise and affordability of AI and robotics: a “tsunami” of data; shortening career cycles; Clean Tech and Renewable energy; a freelancing boom; a loss of jobs to automation and a growing focus on diversity as millennials now occupy roughly half the workforce. These trends have and continuously evolve the world of work, stimulating leaders to innovative sustainable solutions supporting the growing trend. Areas of evolution being seen include how and where we work (remote is the new way) and the change in work roles – a WEF report showed that the increasing use of technology will disrupt traditional roles to birth over 133 million new roles by 2022 and simultaneously lead to the increasing demand for new skills.

While the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the emergence of these trends, they have been long in waiting. However, while we know that work will change, there is no one-size-fits-all option, as companies and sizes will decide how they want to respond, and then respond and adapt differently.

What skills will be relevant in this new future?

It is expected that the next decade will herald intense change. The World Economic Forum has predicted that we will need to reskill more than 1 billion people by 2030, as jobs are transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Also, it is believed that 42% of the core skills required to perform existing jobs will change in the next couple of years.

Automation and machine learning will be at the heart of these changes. Old roles will be automated out, while new roles working with these automated systems will come into being. While this could vastly improve our lives, workers not in possession of the right skills are at risk of being left behind.

The future of work will require a mixture of hard and soft skills. Hard skills, like data scientist, AI, Blockchain, Sales and Marketing, Digital and Nursing will be required. Soft skills such as Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity (the 4Cs) in addition to critical attributes like Emotional Intelligence, Confidence, Credibility, Competence, Character, Compassion and Continuous Improvement/life long learning will be critical differentiators in the future of work.

Read also: World Bank cancels Ease of Doing Business report, FG frowns

What are the post-pandemic realities in Nigeria and how ready are employees to reinvent for this?

Significant advances in technologies are changing the nature of employment, education, and entrepreneurship. The pandemic has led to an economic crisis, thrown traditional work norms out the window, and exacerbated the financial, social, and professional inequities that existed before COVID-19, placing new strains on the persistent barriers that have for too long undermined economic and employment opportunities for underserved populations.

A new reality is the importance of financial literacy and digital inclusion in the future of work. There is a big digital divide, and economic restraints and inequity are barriers to a high-skill, productive workforce. Many people in the rural areas do not have the kind of technology access that you and I take for granted, and so have limited job opportunities to explore and are equally limited in their adaptability and suitability for new technology.-enabled roles

Another reality is the changing culture of the workplace. Traditionally, employers were able to instill corporate culture because staff work from the office. Today, many employees are hired who have never been to the corporate offices. Rather than the dominant view that says workers have to adapt to the way the corporation sets the culture, institutions are now changing and transforming the culture and creating a culture that works for everybody, that respects everybody, that takes care of everybody, irrespective of location. Employees will need to be more adept at learning and adapting to the culture of the work place even while working remotely.

In this new world, future-proof employees must learn the right hard and soft skills as mentioned earlier. Digitalization is expediting the need for necessary reskilling and worker transitions and could undermine employment, median incomes, and also job demand. Many traditional roles are going out of date so employees need to take the initiative to take their professional development and career journey intentionally.

Human Resources departments and officials obviously can play an essential role in driving the success of a new workforce structure that embraces each employee and adjusts job descriptions flexibly to reflect new realities brought on by the pandemic. Additionally, flexible benefits and employee assistance programs need to be explored such as fuel subsidies, child care benefits, technology subsidy, counselling and mental health support. But ultimately, everyone across all levels of management needs to reinvent to improve their personal and corporate outcomes.

How can organizations and people design for resilience?

When we are designing service processes, we typically ensure that we are creating the right user interface and user experience for our customers. So, this is the same way organizations must design their systems and processes to improve employee engagement or experience. Organizations should make sure that the systems, policies, and processes they have in place remove the frictions that irritate employees, slow down work, and make the organization not easy to do business with.

The second thing is to make sure that in designing for resilience, you focus on the five forces that drive growth; people, technology, customer, capital, and entrepreneurship. When you have the right people, they will do the right things to acquire and excite customers. When you have the right technology, you are likely to drive growth via improved quality and processing capacity. The third is the customer. If you have the right customer types, you will increase sustained sales volume and business. When you have the right amount of capital to do business, you can capture opportunities and drive growth. And the last force is entrepreneurship; the ability to take risks to attain the rewards for risk; capital appreciation, market share, and so on.

In designing for resilience, you need to focus on and design your policies and systems to enable these five factors. You must enable your people to be able to excel and achieve their potential. Also designed to maximize the use of technology. You must design an excellent customer experience to excite and retain loyal customers. You must also desire your people to be entrepreneurs who can innovate, who can challenge the status quo, and take risks that will lead to growth and prosperity.

The third thing you need to do is to make sure you put the right people, with the right skills, in the right roles, at the right location, at the right time and for the right price. And when you do these things right, you would have deployed talents that then need to be engaged and motivated for you to have great teams working to support the organization. And skills are important, as, in a crisis period, it is the ability to adapt and learn relevant skills that determine resilience. This is why organizations need to develop a culture where staff can be self-directed and can take responsibility for their growth and skills with personalized learning.

When designing for resilience, it is important to design for diversification. For example, individuals should be adaptable and have multiple skills to improve their versatility. Corporate organisations should have multiple suppliers instead of one, to avoid a single point of failure. At Verraki for instance, we have built capabilities across 3 market sectors – services, the public sector, and the real sector. We have been seeing good growth in services, largely because Nigeria is becoming a service-oriented economy. This diversification has helped us, as we can serve, for instance, telecoms, or banking or technology sectors when the oil and gas sector is not growing. That’s the benefit of diversifying your services.

And lastly, to design for resilience, learn to set micro-goals, especially within a crisis period. You don’t set a goal for a year when you are not sure what will happen. You set a goal for a month. After you achieve that goal, you set a goal for the next month or quarter. And these micro-goals should reflect the situation at that moment and align with the realities of the day. The attainment of these micro-goals will help build momentum for growth instead of despair and despondency.

What role does corporate and individual purpose play in the new normal?

Purpose in life and organization has been proven to make a huge impact on productivity, happiness, and even health. In a time of social crisis, pandemic and heightened stakeholder expectations, business leaders are rightly concerned with how purpose can boost innovation and brand value. Companies and leaders can approach purpose more holistically to optimize value for employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders. The contemporary workplace is as much a battle for hearts and minds as it is one of rules and duties. People increasingly expect an organizational purpose that goes beyond a mere focus on the bottom line, beyond short-termist, financial imperatives. Successful companies define a company’s purpose statement not in terms of making money but providing valuable services or products that improve people’s lives. Disney’s purpose is to make people happy!

The essential value of purpose to our lives was typified by a study that tracked several thousand Americans as part of the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) project. The analysis not only found that people with purpose tend to earn nearly $5,000 per year more than their more aimless peers, but they also lived a longer, healthier life. In another study, this time from researchers at Washington University at St. Louis, it was discovered that purpose can provide a boost to a whole range of healthy lifestyle indicators, from the quality of our diet to the amount of exercise we get, from our sleep quality to dental hygiene.

Corporate purpose can give a significant boost to employee performance, and perhaps understandably make them less likely to want to quit. Corporates must go beyond profit to focus on people and the planet. Companies that do what is in the public interest, align their spending to their focus, give back to their host communities, invest in employees especially in capacity building and staff wellbeing, and

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