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Employers want those who can adapt, innovate and embrace change – Oyelade

JENNIFER OYELADE, director of Transquisite Consulting, an international human resource consultancy and expatriate management services tells BusinessDay’s BUNMI BAILEY, how companies can leverage COVID-19 disruptions to improve their operations and capacity for future growth.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 projects that technological change could displace jobs, will Nigerians be left behind in terms of jobs of the future?
Unfortunately, this will be the case if organisations do not embrace technology now. The workforce has a subliminal division in terms of embracing technology; the Millennials and Generation Z have fully embraced technology and are actively integrating it as additional skills to their core discipline. However, you will find that the reluctance to embrace technology advancement will stem from Generation X purely because of the fear of the unknown.

Without sounding ageist, the older generation are creatures of habit, so embracing something new can seem daunting. These are the professionals that sit in executive leadership positions, so if diligence is not taken these organisations will find themselves losing their share value and market domination.

In some job functions, systems are replacing people and while I believe systems displace the true essence of the “customer experience”, in some cases it is more cost-effective to invest in a system especially where the tasks can be automated. So, to compete with a system, you have to justify your relevance by understanding how you can use the system to maximise your deliverables as an innovative professional as opposed to how a system can replace you as a way to streamline resources.

The world is digitalising to improve operational structures, increase productivity, and to strategically position themselves for external investment. So, for professionals to remain relevant by 2025, they need to diversify their skill set by acquiring digital skills that complement their core discipline.

For example, if I am a finance graduate with a professional accreditation from CFA or CIMA, what is going to differentiate me from other candidates with the same academic background and experience, is the additional skills that I have acquired to add to my market value.
Courses in Business Intelligence, and Data Analytics will give me the ability to make informed business decisions, and the exposure to forecasting, comparing, and analysis which are essential skills to develop on the path to strategic leadership.

With remote working on the rise, what are the sought-after jobs and skills in 2021?
The ideal candidate requirement goes beyond the technical competency, soft skills, and culture fit. Employers are particularly interested in candidates who demonstrate the ability to adapt, embrace change and ride the waves of innovation.
The key to achieve this is to cultivate a Small and medium-sized enterprise mindset of working in an unstructured environment. As a business, products and services may change dependent on the demand of their target audience. Sometimes, the demographics will change altogether and as a candidate, you have to be ready to move when the course changes direction.
This will not be the business practice forever, but at the same time who knows tomorrow. Employers want to have that confidence that you will not crumble under pressure and not flee at the first sight of a hurdle.
Working remotely requires a lot of self-motivation, being proactive, and discipline. There is no framework that supports micro-managing and handholding, so you must be accountable for your own output. Where there is minimal operational support, you will have to utilise the resources you have and work within the tightest constraints without compromising the quality of your deliverables.

Everyone loves a solution provider, but in a time where there is a global pandemic, it is a core necessity when we are all trying to adapt to the new ‘norm’ that comes with its own obstacles. To operate a sustainable business, employers need candidates who are innovative and see an opportunity in every situation. If there is a problem, how do we fix this immediate challenge? And if we are experiencing it, how many others are experiencing this too? Can our immediate solution fix a life-long problem in the future? And most Importantly is it a profitable venture to embark on?
Companies cannot afford to waste resources so now it is more paramount than ever for employees to work smart, with little emphasis on working hard.

COVID-19 has made remote work necessary, how can organisations navigate this transition and maintain productivity?
The promotion of collaborative working is essential when working remotely. Software like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and Skype have made it easy to set up group workflows and think-tanks to encourage idea-sharing and seamless interactions amongst colleagues. Where distance is a factor, these platforms provide clear channels of communication where everybody understands what is expected of them and supports teamwork despite the distance.
As an employer, there needs to be a level of transparency; Do not engage with your team only when there is a need for delegation. Carry them along with any new developments within your organisation and open the floor for think-tank sessions around business improvement initiatives or sales strategy.
Keeping your team abreast about the organisation’s development creates a sense of accountability from an employer’s perspective. This also builds trust amongst a team and eliminates doubts, and assumptions that can arise due to lack of communication and transparency.

Read Also: The pains of doing business online in Africa

To keep your employees accountable, implement rotational leadership roles, where over the course of a week, one team member will be held accountable for the team’s deliverables. This boosts productivity and gives each team member a sense of leadership.
Through this rotational exercise, you may identify potential leaders within your organisation that you did not even know you had. Then, should an opening arise, instead of hiring, you can then groom those employees for leadership positions in your succession plan.

What are the current jobs/skills opportunities that people can leverage on in this pandemic?
A diverse pallet of cross functional expertise! Employers want cross-functional candidates with skillets they can utilise to the fullest. They are looking for professionals who can adapt and understand that their role can diversify according to the economic wave and as a result, their role may require them to wear many hats.
Cross-functional employees do not veer from their core discipline, they are a definition of those who have imbibed at least one skill set in what I call the H.O.I.S.T sectors.
The dictionary definition of “hoist” is the act of raising or lifting something, but in terms of sought-after skills, H.O.I.S.T stands for Human Resources, Operations, Information such as Data or Information Systems, Sales, and Technology.

Including finance, these are the only sectors that are recession-proof and skills developed within these areas will always be sought-after. Regardless of the sector you find yourself in, be it hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing, or agriculture; there will always be people who work within an operational structure, who use information or systems, to implement sales strategies using technology with the overall objective of running a profitable business.

Adapting an additional skill from the H.O.I.S.T sectors to your core discipline does not depreciate your expertise or create an impression that you are a jack or jill of all trades. In fact, it enhances it and automatically differentiates you as a candidate with more to offer in a market where talented professionals are many and opportunities are few.
A Human Resources Manager with experience in Data Analytics would serve my objectives better than a People Analytics professional who does not have the generalist experience to lead my organisation. An IT professional with experience in HR would be able to understand the systems I need to manage my business at its best capacity.
It is very achievable to carve a niche within your discipline, and if implemented well you can increase your market value in terms of remuneration and strategically position yourself for unique career opportunities.

You recently launched a book titled “Careerectional Facility”, can you tell us more about it and the inspiration behind it?
Careerectional Facility is a play on words between career and correctional facility – the prison we put ourselves in the quest for career fulfilment while believing there are certain rules and processes that we need to follow to get there. The truth is – there are no rules! There is no template, format, or structured way because every journey is unique to an individual. We have all been given different advice on how to secure a job or how to move up the career ladder at some point in our lives; this book dissects this and educates the reader that the process is not a one-size-fits-all cap.
My objective was to create a go-to manual in your time of need to reaffirm yourself of your journey whether you are an entry-level professional finding your way, a professional who has found themselves in a stagnant place, or executives who have paid their dues to the workforce and want to capitalise on their expertise outside of the 9-5 conventional space.

What happens if the economy has a ripple effect on business trends, which again has a ripple effect on the demand of particular skill sets, so since the world, as we know it evolves every day, why should we lock ourselves in professional confinement?
Over the course of my career, that spans three continents; two things have remained the same till date. Firstly, the evolving changes in the labour market, and secondly, the similarities in the obstacle’s professionals face in the pursuit of career fulfilment.
Having been on both sides of the interview table as a candidate, employee, employer, and Hiring Manager. I took my time to consolidate my experience and write this book from a multifaceted perspective to ensure that it provides insights that will still be relevant three, five and 10 years from now.
In the wake of the increase in unemployment and the instability of the global economy, this book enlightens people on how to strategically place themselves in a position to be relevant in a market where the talented professionals are many and the opportunities are few.

What can the Nigerian government do to address its unemployment challenges?
Invest in the infrastructure of the country starting with human capacity. People build the economy, not systems!
I cannot stress the importance of intentional human capacity development tailored to the country’s objective to be a sustainable economy. The main issue is we will cut our own nose to spite our face and that makes us our own hindrance. We believe that because it is foreign it is better. We invest too much in the importation and lose focus on increasing our GDP by leveraging our own resources.
The focus should be on exportation to promote multilateral trade and less on importation. To stay afloat, our resources need to circle back to empower businesses in-country and lean only on foreign aid and investment as a form of support and not a means of survival.

As a nation, we need to take innovation seriously, and leverage technology to open the door to global opportunities. Some of the best tech professionals are Nigerian and they are doing amazing things abroad, why do we have to seek greener pastures before we make a difference? To eradicate unemployability, we need to restructure our economy and promote innovative initiatives within our sectors to build a sustainable and profitable market.
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