Youth Month: empowering future leaders with HR insights and opportunities

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June, celebrated as Youth Month in South Africa, shines a spotlight on the pivotal role young people play in shaping the nation's future. During this vibrant month, CHRO South Africa spoke to HR leaders offering invaluable insights on career advancement, leadership development, and driving industry transformation, empowering the next generation to take charge and make a lasting impact.

Youth Month is a powerful reminder of the crucial role young people play in shaping our nation's future and highlights the importance of investing in the upcoming workforce. This month-long celebration focuses on empowering, developing, and including the youth in various aspects of life, especially in the workforce.

Palesa Ntoagae, executive for human capital and facilities management at Old Mutual Insure, says their organisation is obsessed with investing in early careers to build a strong, diverse and talented workforce to drive business success and derive positive social impact.

“Over the last three years we’ve hired over 70 graduates pursuing the actuarial profession and the mainstream Graduate Accelerator Program, with a retention rate varying between 84 and 100 percent.”

She adds that she and her team have also launched the Actuarial Apprenticeship Program in 2023 and the Underwriter Learnership Program as a means to ensure that the industry skill requirements are met, and to drive real transformation in the profession.

Palesa shares a few golden nuggets with the youth as they navigate their careers in this evolving world of work:

“Embrace the opportunities that lie ahead: the workplace is a dynamic environment filled with challenges, learning experiences and growth opportunities. Be open to new experiences, take initiative and never stop seeking knowledge. Secondly, success is measured by your individual achievements and the impact you have on those around you.”

Collaboration, teamwork and communication are essential skills that will enable you to thrive in any professional setting, she adds, alerting the younger workforce to embrace diversity, respect differing perspectives, and strive to create a positive and inclusive work environment.

Sinqobile Khuluse, head of human resources at Sandock Austral Shipyards and 2023 CHRO Awards nominee says there has to be a stronger focus on data mining and analysis as that is a key skill that young people should be able to leverage as they enter the workplace and rise to leadership positions, “Data has become a key commodity and companies that are able to ‘slice and dice’ data and deliver on data-informed decision making combined with knowledge and lived experiences, remain ahead of the curve. Introducing more IT hubs, cafes with technological devices especially in rural areas and townships will further address the skills imbalance and mismatch that currently prevails, access to information will go a long way towards empowering young people, fuelling their drive and ambitions and giving them the opportunity to see beyond their current social challenges and lack of privilege, technology will allow them to pursue their dreams and open up their minds to the vast global opportunities that the world has to offer them, that their dreams are valid.”

Other nuggets Palesa shared include stepping outside the comfort zone, where she encouraged the youngsters to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and never underestimate your own potential. “Set ambitious goals, stay focused and persevere in the face of adversity, master your own, personal work-life integration. Your wellbeing is paramount, and taking time to recharge and nurture your personal interests is essential for your long-term success and fulfilment. Remember, winning starts in the mind!”

Young leadership in Africa

Sane Ngidi, Africa human resources lead at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is of the opinion that businesses and organisations can benefit from having young leaders.

“As the world of work evolves, so too does the representation we have in our leadership need to evolve. This is an opportunity to bring diversity in thought and representation to the organisation. As technology evolves and is key to innovation, bringing in leaders who are tech-savvy and have different experiences with technology offers a new lens to problem-solving.

“There are increased cross-learning opportunities for both experienced leaders and young leaders as they work together. The integration of multiple generations influences the evolution of organisational cultures, team norms and how we view employee experience in order to create an inclusive environment where everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

“The ability to solve complex problems in novel ways and design new future-proof solutions requires that we have different types of leaders and young leaders play an important role.”

Top tips from Sane on preparing employees for the responsibilities that come with leadership? “Talent and succession programmes can be heavily indexed on leadership identification of experienced hires for senior leadership and executive roles. A dedicated talent strategy to identify and create opportunities for high potential young leaders is critical,” she says.

“Some practices that I have seen be beneficial are creating talent processes to identify emerging talent,” she notes, such as creating development programmes for young leaders to build capabilities and fast-track opportunities; focusing on opportunities for mentorship to assist in learning and development; implementing a sponsorship programme to intentionally create opportunities for senior leaders to be exposed to young talent; forming junior leadership boards or committees to have the voices of emerging leaders heard, make them part of problem-solving and building the future of the organisation.

“Create opportunities for project work or challenges for young talent to hone and showcase their capabilities; implement and ensure the effectiveness of clear development planning, feedback and performance management to be attuned to development needs and individual readiness; create opportunities for short-term work assignments or cross-learning; and be open to exploring new ways of development.

“Critical also, is once in the leadership roles, to set them up for success by considering the required onboarding and coaching for the new requirements of leadership, both technically and behaviourally,” she concludes.

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