The future of work-What should be up for this decade for HR in Kenya

The Corona Virus pandemic has reignited the conversation around the future of work and more importantly to us the role of HR professionals in steering companies forward through unprecedented times and fast-changing economies. What about the global conversation around racism & discrimination and the roles companies play in reinforcing or breaking these biases? Today we look at bringing this conversation closer home and discussing how HRM in Kenya should adapt to these changing times.

A couple of years ago if you wanted to study HRM, many folks had no option but to go to schools like Makerere or Dar es Salaam Universities. The field of HRM was very little known in East Africa and many HR managers found in offices had mainly studied other courses such as business administration. But all that has changed now and we are seeing more HRM courses being offered in Kenya and around the world. Legislation around work is also being adapted to suit changing dynamics around work.

Forward to 2020, we are seeing many people venturing into HRM including professionals with degrees and masters in other fields like law, arts, and psychology. We’re also seeing a hiring shift where many companies are dismissing old selection criteria like degree qualifications. Google, Apple, IBM & even Virgin Atlantic are some of the firms that have made the shift to look for competencies beyond paper citing, “ they have begun to realize needed skills and experience that can be gained through nontraditional routes”. And with this trend not disappearing soon, what does this mean for the future?

Africa also is at the forefront of the talent marketplace attracting a lot of innovation and attention from businesses looking for talent. It is the 2nd fastest region in the world with a growing young population of average age 19 and predicted to become the largest workforce in the world by 2040 according to PWC. This growing population can be an exploding bomb waiting to happen if not harnessed properly.

So bearing in mind the changing face of HR, the world of work, and demographics, how should we adapt to keep up in Kenya?

Transform how & who learns about People Management

Technology is changing so rapidly transforming how we access educational content & the future of learning. With Corona Virus impact for instance and total lockdowns, schools and governments have been forced to switch to online classes and video tools. EdTech solutions are being adopted at a much faster rate. The new demographic, millennials and Gen Z, are also requiring a different learning experience with many opting for online education at their own pace and accessible from anywhere. One trend in EdX being the delivery of curated & personalized learning citing,

myHRfuture, which enable employees to create customised pathways based on the skills and knowledge they want to learn with content curated through machine learning..”

With limited access to funds for many in Africa, access to affordable quality education and training is critical to advancing our continent’s workforce. Looking at the current CHRP curriculum, however, reveals a course that is largely outdated and repetitive in nature. Most courses don’t offer training on emerging issues in HRM and the relevant skills required e.g workforce design, design thinking, emerging HR technologies, data analytics, or critical thinking. For someone like myself who has completed a four-year degree course in HR and an additional Higher Diploma(which was also repeating what I’d done on campus), I paused about my decision to pursue a CHRP qualification after checking the curriculum and talking to several other HRPs. These courses and the institutions offering them should be regularly vetted to ensure our training is modern and relevant to both society & employers and most importantly forward-looking. Especially if the Institute continues to force HRPs to pursue them as the only way to be certified professionals. This factor alone is what has led many to seek learning online through platforms like Youtube and Udemy which are completely free, interactive & updated. It’s also not up to date with how young professionals connect, engage & learn in today’s world.

FIG 3: The top six skills HR professional want to learn (Source: myHRfuture, HR Skills of the Future, 2019)

Another trend to consider affecting HRps now and in the near future is the abolishing of degree and certificate requirements by companies such as Google and IBM as we noted above. I’ve seen companies in Kenya already seeking to hire talent specialists without asking for a degree or qualification. This is because hiring managers are moving more towards testing for relevant competencies and attitudes throughout the hiring process as opposed to simply using must-have requirements as an ineffective way to source and sieve out candidates. Another reason for this is because these employers have acknowledged the inequalities that our formal education system imposes on people wishing to succeed. The higher you go, the harder it becomes. What will this then mean for IHRM who are using the law to push for more certification? In a world where there’s also much inequality, what do these requirements do for the less privileged who barely managed to get through just one course financially or others who face other forms of challenges? How inclusive is our training & the realities of its trainees' world? Are we merely adding more ceilings for groups such as parents or women who after campus have to juggle so much more? Are we making it easier or harder for people to gain HR knowledge or advance their careers? This practice is also in line with the trend we’re going to be seeing more of- workforce planning & Org Design on the basis of skills vs Jobs.

Many talented applicants might be self-taught, or have a serious set of skills they acquired outside of traditional academic institutions. These job seekers can still provide the work ethic, talent, and grit needed to excel in a role, the Glassdoor blog post said.

Another change not being adopted is the breaking down of content into smaller bite-sized courses that can be done in an hour or two across several weeks. It’s also better for disadvantaged groups like new mums or remote staff. This format is also better manageable for learners and can help increase completion rates for students who may not be able to pay for full enrollment. We should now then seek to adapt to the new modes of learning including how we teach, who teaches, how we test, how we share, what we test, and how we unlearn. Many channels can be used for this such as newsletters, blogs, podcasts, webinars, short stories & ebooks, social media live events & offline events, posts, live tweets & group discussions, youtube videos & other video platforms including EDtech like Coursera, workshops & even tradeshows or conferences.

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

In the year 2011, the Engineering Registration Board rejected 47 ongoing and planned engineering degrees in local and public universities. The degrees were submitted for accreditation the previous year. According to ERB’S report on Accreditation of the Engineering Degree Programmes, degrees were rejected because of their low-quality curriculum, lack of qualified lecturers, segmentation, and duplication of the programs, and absence of professional focus.

Many employers and students seeking to pursue educational & professional qualifications in HRM don’t know the different disciplines in HRM and what IHRM approves. I believe just like the Engineers Board of Kenya and KASNEB and other bodies, the Institute of HRM Kenya should define and regulate disciplines of HRM being offered in institutions around the country. For instance, what is the difference between a B.Arts(HRM), BSC(HRM), or Bcom(HRM option)? Which student is supposed to take which course after campus between a higher diploma, postgraduate diploma, or masters in HRM? Some powers of the Engineering Board of Kenya (under their Act) which can be mirrored include: To

approve and accredit (engineering) programs in public and private universities and other tertiary level educational institutions offering education (in engineering);

And like other bodies like KASNEB, students who have undertaken and passed certain subjects (certified by the Institute) should be exempted from some subjects thereafter in IHRM KNEC exams and not subsequently charged for the same. A study and official approval of HRM courses will also be beneficial to employers since they will have clarity on what the required qualifications for one to practice HRM are. And while at it, IHRM has to look into the training of trainers. How do we hire, assess and grow HR trainers in the country so they can not only provide great value to us but can be competitive in the global HR talent space too? For us to do this, everything we do has to be aligned with global HR best practices. This is especially critical also because through emerging business models & technologies, more teams are becoming distributed across locations including HR ones.

So with the changing face of learning, it would be wise to see how to employ blended learning paths for those seeking knowledge of HRM and how we train. A combination of courses, trainers, methods, and platforms will be required to increase quality & access to the knowledge that exists within & out of our networks. And with the world opening up knowledge sharing, can we really confine this education any longer to a few groups of people?

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Transforming Partnerships

As seen with international professional bodies and groups, IHRM too has to seek partnerships within & outside the HR body to achieve its agenda. This includes first liaising with schools, parents, employers, and education experts to equip talent at early stages. Large companies like Google & Facebook are already great at adopting new hiring techniques for various reasons such as promoting employer branding, campus recruitment & improving diversity & inclusion numbers. These companies & HR teams are intentional about identifying great talent very early on and building long-term candidate relationships.

Campuses provide great sources of talent for entry-level jobs such as internships. They are also a great avenue for mentorship and early training which our workforce lacks greatly. Many young professionals entering the world of work lack critical information about how to navigate their careers. I experienced this even during my campus days where we received very little support from IHRM Kenya, to whom we would contribute a monthly subscription by the way. This career disconnect stems as early as high school and early education. I consider myself lucky to have been accepted to the HR school in my university after requesting a transfer once I joined because it wasn't in any of the options I had selected during my final year of high school and it ended up being what I love & personally suited for. My parents also didn’t provide guidance on the career choices available & the internet wasn’t so popular then. So I took guesses based on what I thought I enjoyed doing, my subject selection in school & the popularity of some ‘famous’ careers like Law or International Relations. Most professionals in Africa can give you funny stories about how they ended up doing what they do now with most telling you how parents & myths had a big role to play. For instance, there’s a huge gender disparity in tech schools & tech teams because tech courses were seen as for males-only careers while arts were reserved for girls.

As custodians of work, I believe there’s much more we can do to help shape industries and careers including working with high schools, campuses, educators, the ministry of education, companies & even parents. This will help bridge the gap between market & talent demands and solve our hiring issue of millions of unqualified job seekers.

There’s also much value to be derived through multigenerational teams including reverse mentorship which helps bridge the divide between young professionals and mature professionals. This will go a long way in even mentoring and preparing the future leaders of the profession and also ensuring young professionals are getting the right kind of information regarding the profession e.g. concerning new laws. Reverse mentorship is also critical for any company or institution wishing to tap into the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of its younger generation for the purposes of being relevant and innovative. The talent marketplace is very competitive and for Africa to be measured against the greats like Japan & India HRPs have to start early too.

The nature of people management itself as well necessitates HRPs to work with other professionals. Collaboration between us and other professional communities such as Tech groups could yield mutual benefits eg training Project Managers about team cohesion and share about agile development. This brings us to the last two opportunities;

Marketing HRM to non HR professionals

HRM in simple terms is the art & science of managing people. Now if this statement is true, a lot of what we practice can be shared with others. A Tech founder for instance with a background in computer science could be having issues managing his team culture or dealing with insubordination. The Institute can offer generalized HRM classes and courses to attract these people and equip them with basic HR skills such as leadership, conflict management, and communication. This is especially critical for Africa and Kenya in particular since over 80% of our economy is powered by small businesses that do not have the necessary HR teams or leads. There is a large market need for skills traditional to HRM and hence an opportunity to share HR knowledge to a much wider audience. This also applies to the articles and discussions on our journals, events, websites, online portals and social networking sites. Our audience is wider than we might imagine and we should try to reach out to this group of people who are also practicing HRM in their own way.

Corona has also proven this to be effective as people all over the world congregate in webinars across different geographies and timezones to share & learn from each other. Knowledge is no longer confined to four walls or time & limited experts. Everyone can learn from everyone now. With online learning & free access to content online, what does this also mean for HRM which is still linking certificates to CPD points? A quick look at the HRM Facebook page, for instance, will reveal training seminars costing over USD 700 pretax at a resort location. You’ll also see this training linked to CPD points. How relevant is this structure to the future of work and even modern practices where people are now joining global sessions through a click on their phone for FREE? What’s the place of online learning in professional accreditation too? This is a debate all professions are facing as the face of learning continues to change and the new world of work changes how we hire, assess & train talent.

Transform the world of work by being technology champions

A common denominator for all these changes is emerging technologies and changing business models. The world of work is changing and fast. HR is not being left unaffected by these changes. In US, for instance, the HR Tech market has been growing with major players like Microsoft & Workday making a significant investment. We’ve discussed the impact of tech in various functions of HRM including professional engagement platforms like Linkedin being overtaken slowly by social media channels that are more attractive to the younger generation. From being champions of technology to helping companies navigate these changes & even prepare its workforce for competitive advantage, our role can’t be ignored. By liaising with technology communities and groups around us, HRPs can keep themselves, corporate leaders, government & others updated about the challenges & opportunities brought about by changing technology in relation to how we work. It’s no wonder then that this is the 3rd most sought after skill by HRPs. Tech provides us with so many opportunities to enhance HR service delivery. We’ve seen onboarding powered by AI, hiring screening using AI bots or gamification, background checking using Blockchain, tracking employee wellness using wearable devices, monitoring company equipment & usage using IOT, using biometrics like fingerprint & facial scans to improve security around premises or training using AR & VR eg If I worked for large multinational, I would use VR as a way to improve new hire experience by showing them our multiple offices & staff across the world. The best thing about being alive at such a time as this is that all these technologies are at the early stages of the Gartner Hype cycle meaning Africa can not only contribute but be pioneers too.

How can we become digital leaders and not just consumers? How can we learn to build HR technology for our companies & the world? What opportunities can we harness for the HR Tech sector? How can we support those building HR tech in the country & continent?

Technology has been instrumental in these Covid 19 times including keeping teams together through remote work and collaboration tools as well as helping spread critical & timely information about the pandemic including how leaders can navigate the crisis. Professional communities have also been using tech to engage with each other to overcome Covid challenges. How are we currently using tech to connect & share as HR professionals across the continent & beyond? How are we being counted right now?

Technology can also help us make smarter business and talent decisions. That’s why data analytics is one of the skills in demand now from HRPs. With HR transforming to a more strategic role and technology automating many standard tasks, tech can help us provide greater value to businesses and employees. Whatever cannot be measured cannot be improved. Through analytics and artificial intelligence, we can be able to see what to start, stop or continue doing. Data is also the new gold because through intelligence it can become insights that other groups could be willing to pay for including government & international institutions. We could measure HR’s impact on society & the company & track everything else we’ve mentioned above. It moves us from a spray & pray department to one that thinks & works like engineering through data-driven processes eg at Google. As Mark Zuckerberg says, “Data settles all arguments”. This is especially so for bigger companies. HR is both art & science. We should invest in the science more.

Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Put it into law

Legislation through national labour laws or even your own company policies and guidelines should reflect the kind of employer you wish to be. Eg with an estimated 2million job entrants every year entering Kenya’s job market, should we start discussing an Unemployment Benefits Act that has proven beneficial during such times as this Covid-19 period for countries like Canada? We predict these unemployment numbers will continue rising year on year so what can we do now to prepare for this? Another emerging issue brought about by technology is ethics & cybersecurity in how we handle data hence the need for an ethics charter. Laws such as GDPR also affect how data is handled by companies & HRPs eg applicant data. So if your company is going digital, are you keeping up to date on these global practices & concerns? Some companies barely audit their HR policies and practices. This can be detrimental to your goals in the near future and will make your HR processes obsolete.

Sadly, our labor laws were created with a different workplace in mind from the one we currently have. Africa for instance can’t yet fully embrace these new types of labour because of a lack of legal framework. Anthropologist Mary Gray explains it better here about the new forms of labor & social protection considerations ;

“Citizens, businesses, workers & governments need to broker a new social contract & safety net for these new types of workers. The market is not going to solve this. This is a social policy need. We’ve never had companies define work conditions on their own. We’ve always needed society to come together and say “What’s our baseline?”.

  • Added* Emerging issues & topics

Apart from all the above, how else can we continuously & genuinely be counted to stand up on issues that matter to our employees & the community we operate in? Beyond CSR, how else can we contribute to global issues & agendas, as they happen, and be counted? If most people don’t respect HR, it’s usually because we don’t seem to stand for anything. Ask yourself, what kind of HR support have you been giving your staff & leaders on COVID-19? Wellness is still a priority for HR in 2020. What about the international movement on racism & discrimination fuelled by Black Lives Matter? What about locally around the issue of sexual harassment & rape in Africa? How are you keeping track of the issues that matter most to your candidates & staff because they are definitely keeping an eye on you. Just ask Facebook who had an employee walkout because of their response on the matter. How do you think this has affected future hiring prospects in a talent market where branding is King? Remember, silence is just as loud. Whether it’s within our companies, or by supporting employee-led initiatives, or through speaking as a larger community/group such as IHRM, we can speak for those who don’t have the capacity to do so including supporting healthcare workers in their calls for better benefits & support in their workplaces currently. “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not happiness.”

“I can not do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”-Jana Stanfield

So have we done enough to stay ahead of the curve in global HR practices in Kenya? Definitely not. Could we do more? Absolutely. If there’s anything Covid 19 has taught companies is that the future of work is already here. Most companies have been caught off-guard and are grappling at the new realities while those who heeded the prophecy are having a better transition experience. Businesses are becoming smarter day by day in how they operate, from manufacturing, supply chain to marketing. How we manage people should too. The world will not wait for us to get our act together. The next decade can be just another decade or the decade that puts HR on the transformation map of this country & continent.

Key takeaways;

  • As an (HR) professional, you have to continuously seek to reskill yourself and stay ahead of the curve. Seek knowledge & networks within & outside professional associations & groups. You’re not confined any longer.
  • How we hire & manage people is one of the most important skills of any business leader today & for the future. You don’t have to be an HR trained person to be a people expert.
  • Get out of the building’ and be in touch with what’s happening on the ground and beyond your space. Technology & communities allow you to do this. Learn, connect, share.
  • HRPs through IHRM & other avenues should be more deliberate about steering the future of work conversations in Kenya & the continent and seek to even be innovators not just consumers of change.

For more about the future of HR read KPMG’s predictions here. For another version of this conversation check out https://medium.com/the-anadrome/whatsgood-future-of-work-452167dd4766.

HR Generalist| Founder @JobonicsHR | Where HR, Tech& Entrepreneurship meet| Eat. Pray. Code. Blog. Hire | 🇰🇪 IVisit stellangugi.com for more info.