Pernod Ricard's Shireen Maharaj says young professionals need to be more deliberate in their actions if they are to succeed


Shireen says young professionals need to be willing to constantly reassess their ambitions and capabilities to keep pace with the constant change in the workplace.

“To capitalise on the many opportunities that are available to them, young professionals need to approach their careers very differently to what their parents may have done. They need to proactively manage the balance between their career aspirations and their life ambitions, especially if they choose to work in the fast-paced, multinational environment where they compete for opportunities in a global environment. Solid academic qualifications and hard work will only be the entry point. They will need a high degree of learning agility to differentiate themselves,” says Shireen Maharaj, human resources director for Sub-Saharan Africa at distilled beverages company, Pernod Ricard.

"Young people often have a fresh perspective of looking at the world, even when this may be untested, there is much to be gained from their ability to not see barriers and boundaries. At Pernod Ricard, this viewpoint is highly valued, and the company has instituted a Youth Action Council which taps into the ideas and energy of the young professionals in their employee group."

“This is a generation that is still establishing a culture which is distinctive to their ideas and experiences. While they may be struggling to define their cultural niche, they have a well-defined idea of what they don’t want, and they are not shy to express this. Balancing their entrepreneurial tendencies with their need for work-life balance within the confines of a corporate world presents an interesting challenge for both them and their employers,” says Shireen.

It’s not unusual to change your mind

Shireen’s journey as an HR professional began much like many others in that it was not part of her original plan. She studied psychology and criminology and intended working with juvenile delinquents as a clinical psychologist. While doing voluntary work in the field, she realised that the reality was very different from the academic, and found herself qualified in a field in which she no longer wanted to work.  Instead, she became a flight attendant at SA Express when the airline was still a start-up. While working there, through her involvement in the operations part of the business, she was exposed to South Africa’s labour legislation and labour dynamics in the aviation industry, which set her on the HR path.

Having experienced this career shift and having to retrain for a new career path makes Shireen appreciate the challenges that young professionals experience when entering the workforce.

“This real-life experience is often difficult for them and job-hopping to find that perfect fit becomes tempting. It’s important for young professionals to understand that, to be successful, they must refine their skills to build depth and broaden their experience. This is invaluable as your career progresses when you need a strong foundation which you can rely on, especially in such a dynamic workplace. But this does take some time, so it will be important to know when to sit in a seat for a while and when to take the fast track,” says Shireen.

Employers must evolve

Shireen is aware that companies must evolve in terms of their expectations, particularly in an environment where critical skills are in short supply. People plan their careers around wanting to broaden their experience by working in different locations and environments. They are constantly looking to improve their skill set, they are looking to employers to provide such an environment and to create these opportunities for them. Multinationals have a unique advantage in this regard, and if they want to attract the best talent, they must deliver in this respect.  Candidates are more empowered in being able to choose the organisations for which they want to work.

Says Shireen: “Organisations are more complex and dynamic, which means that their talent must be able to respond to this, so candidates with this agility are highly valued and in demand. These are certainly exciting times for organisations and young professionals.”

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