05 Apr Accra Talks Youth Employment and The Future of Work
On Wednesday, April 3rd, SFAN held the 2019 edition of Quantum Leap Career Fair with a focus on youth employment.
One of three main events hosted by SFAN, Stars From All Nations, Quantum Leap Career Fair is an annual entry-level career fair that helps job seekers and employers to connect and communicate face-to-face. The event provides a platform for participants to gather information on career options, build a network of contacts with peers and industry leaders, find job openings or secure an interview; as well as stimulate insightful career discussions that can help them make quantum leaps in their career journey.
With a thought leadership panel led by Philip Ashon of Citi TV and featuring Tracy Kyei, Marketing Executive of Samsung, Ike Nana Amoatin, Product Manager of MainOne, Andy Mensah, HR Partner of IBM, and Rianna Owusu, Transformation Fellow at the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET), these are my 5 key takeaways from the Quantum Leap Career Fair 2019: How to Become Irresistible to Employers.
1. Your résumé gets you an invitation but your skills keep you in the room
Andy Mensah, Human Resources Partner – Ghana & Central Africa, IBM
The job market is incredibly competitive these days. On average, only ten percent of College graduates in Ghana get hired after one year of graduation. The reality is: Although there are insufficient jobs to absorb the youth bulge in the country, many entry-level job seekers do not have requisite skills needed by employers. That is to say, even when there are jobs, employers still struggle to find competent prospects.
“The things we write on our CV don’t matter anymore. When I meet you, prove what you’re made of.”
For Andy Mensah, a CV or resume is only useful if you could back it up with job-specific skills. “I work in HR so I do get a lot of CV from job seekers. But these days, I am not just looking for a first-class student or a person with the highest GPA. I am looking for somebody who, when he or she comes in, I don’t have to train for one year…I am looking for someone who understands how we drive value to our clients; how the office operates and have demonstrable experience.”Ike Amoatin, Product Manager for MainOne Ghana
“Your CV is extremely important – it’s what could make someone call you. But when we sit to talk, I want you to show me what you’re made of. You must have job-related skills that can make you functional.”
Sitting on one side of the job-readiness advocacy line, Ike Amoatin observes the relevance of a well-crafted resume, “No employer will see your capability just by looking at your CV – but the first point is the attraction and that’s the CV. A solid CV makes the same type of the first impression a nice dress makes on a date night.”
I tell people to treat their job application like going on a date, he says. “Once the person connects with you, then you can show your command and control of your résumé content. I don’t expect you to know everything but I do expect you to be able to run me through your experience. From that, I’d be picking out the skills I need for the job.”
2. Every opportunity is a good opportunity
“If you get an opportunity that at first sight is not what you wanted, think of what you can learn from that opportunity that can be applied elsewhere.”
Bringing her insights as a Transformation Fellow at ACET – an economic policy institute supporting Africa’s long-term growth through transformation – Rianna Owusu works to help create tools to address youth unemployment on the continent. “On a regional level, the issues are: from the demand side, employers are saying the skills they need differ from what students are learning. And, a lot of us are graduating which means we’re basically competing against each other. Then on the supply side, there are not enough jobs being created. And so as a solution, on a practical level, you have to understand what your skills are. If you don’t have the experience, how can you gain experience if you’re not in the industry? Even if the industry you’re going into is not where you wish to be, you have the opportunity to basically pick out what the transferable skills are. So that if you do have the opportunity to break into your preferred industry, you can market yourself properly.”
For Tracy Kyei, this is no strange recommendation at all. Returning to Ghana from the U.K with a degree and work experience in finance, she had to pivot into marketing – which looks more exciting to her. “When it comes to having one specific job in mind, you just have to be adaptable. I’m constantly learning and taking up new challenges. Things are changing; jobs are changing. You don’t have to stay in what you already know – learn to explore and take up challenges.”
It appears all the panelists pivoted in their careers at some point: Andy moved from accounting to HR, Ike started with MainOne as a network engineer and is currently in product marketing, while Rianna’s career began in development.
“Don’t box yourself in, you might realize you’re better at the next opportunity,” Ike says.
3. The best way to future-proof your career is by upskilling
In Rianna Owusu’s words, “Any training is good training if you could see how to transfer that training into work.”
We live in a knowledge economy. Thanks to AI and big data, the shelf life of information is progressively decreasing. Today, learning is the most important form of work. Learning is the final key to long-term productivity and success.
“In terms of the future of work and the pace at which the nature of work is changing, I think we do have reasons to worry about our education systems – not just in Ghana but across Africa. The system isn’t necessarily providing people with skills they need to be functional in the labor market.”
With all the accolades to her name, when asked about her opinion on the future of work, Tracy Kyei doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge the importance of personal education as the key to staying relevant. With the pace at which the world is going, a child in elementary school today could be your boss tomorrow. To buttress this point, she recalls a story told by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg on how that when she was in college, Mark Zuckerberg was in elementary school. “You need to make sure you equip yourself because times are changing. You have to give yourself the room to evolve.”
For Andy and Ike, the future of work is already here. The dynamics of how we work are constantly changing and we have to wake up to that reality. The future of work is for those who are creative and innovative. Nevertheless, behind the sophistication of automation and robotics will be some level of the human element. They also agree on the fact that there are certain jobs machines cannot do.
4. Have confidence in yourself
People don’t buy what you sell, they buy how you sell it, making it extremely important to develop your self-confidence.
Having self-confidence can take you further. Without it, you’re almost guaranteed to live below your potentials.
“One thing I definitely learned along the way is to have confidence in yourself,” Rianna explains. “Once you have that confidence, it shows on the outside and employers and colleagues will believe in you. But until you have that confidence, it’ll be very difficult to progress.”
Yet, confidence is one of the most misunderstood concepts. You’re either confident or you’re not – you cannot fake it.
According to the famed psychologist, Albert Bandura, confidence is people’s beliefs regarding their capacity a) to succeed and b) to attain a given level of performance.
Your level of confidence shapes your future. In other words, the more confident you are, the more you take steps and decisions that can help you succeed. The more confident you are, the more congruent your words and actions are.
So, how do you cultivate confidence?
In the language of research, confidence is reflected in one’s past performance. That means confidence is based on what you’ve done not what you’re going to do.
For Tracy, confidence comes from educating and proving yourself. “I opened myself up to try different things. Before I got into marketing, I didn’t know anything about the industry. I decided to take courses – I did a course in sales and marketing, started CIM and now I’m in level 6. Now, I actually love doing marketing. You just have to keep evolving.”
Speaking in agreement, Ike Amoatin underscores that careful preparation is vital in developing your self-efficacy: “Once you know your stuff, you ask the right questions.”
5. Soft skills are the hard skills of today’s job market
One of the most important themes of the panel – the one that is on the top of the list of global talent trend – is whether employers recruit for soft or hard skills.
After interviewing company leaders, speaking with experts, and observing activities on their platform, LinkedIn concluded that soft skills are non-negotiable for today’s workforce. In fact, 91% of talent professionals agree that soft skills are very important to the future of recruiting and HR.
Over at IBM, the first step in their recruitment process is that a candidate goes through a personal interview – regardless of the role. “No matter who you are, you must pass the soft skills interview before you can go ahead to the next stage of the recruitment process. In the work environment, today, it’s not really about your technical skills – soft skills are at the top. Especially in our part of the world, relationships matter.”
Speaking for MainOne, Ike notes that soft skills are also important in their recruitment decision. “For entry-level roles, even if you don’t have developed technical skills but you have good soft skills, we’d bring you on. Sometimes, the training time can also influence whether we let you slide or come in.”
The world is changing – build a life, not a résumé.
In closing this article, we are reminded of Tracy Kyei’s opening remarks, “the world is changing.”
Artificial intelligence and robots are making many jobs redundant. And so, to thrive in the future of work, you have to go beyond building a compelling résumé. You have to invest in personal development.
As a society, we’ve bought into the lie that learning happens only in school. And so, many college students work really hard with the aim of having stellar résumés. Yet, the converse perspective is that “almost all of the learning across our life spans happens outside of school.”
As Andy Mensah clearly expressed, “Don’t let your education hinder you. Really, don’t let anybody tell you-you cannot do anything. As long as you think you can do it, go for it!”