Timi Tope Ologunoye is Director, Corporate Services at Cars45. He is a seasoned senior HR professional, industry thought-leader and Council Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, CIPM. As an accountable process-oriented team player and leader who has built track records for developing high performing teams both at divisional and enterprise levels, he understands how to connect strategy, operations and people processes to deliver expected value in alignment with corporate goals. In this interview, he speaks about how to tackle the unemployment challenge in Nigeria, the future of work, among other issues.
Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges that confronts Nigeria in 2020. Can you provide practical steps that organizations can take to reduce it?
While I think the unemployment challenge in Nigeria is one which the Government needs to tackle headlong through appropriate policies that will stimulate the economy for jobs to be created, I also believe that each one of us, including organizations have our different parts to play.
Firstly, organizations must find ways to collaborate with education and training providers to help people develop the skills they really need in the world of work and promote lifelong learning. We have often heard the parlance that “Nigerian graduates are unemployable”, “Nigerian graduates are not good for the industry”. It’s high time organizations did something about it.
When organizations create partnerships with academic institutions for their own talent needs, they are able to increase the quality of the talent pool available to everyone, often in a more cost-efficient way and with greater societal benefits. The organization’s leadership should commit to initiatives that help connect employees as lecturers or mentors to undergraduates in the universities or local entrepreneurial hubs. This is where the influence of the HR departments come in. Training students for skills needed in the industry is crucial for the employability problem to be solved.
Another way to fix the unemployment puzzle is for companies to connect talent to markets by closing the gap between job seekers and employers. The NYSC program is one among many of such pipelines. Utilizing the NYSC program can be a great way to get a lot of fresh graduates ready for the real world of work. The transition from education to employment is often a make-or-break juncture in the lives of young people and a core determinant of the talent pipeline for many industries. Before designing an intervention, it is important to have a clear understanding of the full talent value chain and the impact a business wants to achieve.
Thirdly, organizations can promote entrepreneurship by supporting start-ups and smaller enterprises. We must deliberately create internships for new high growth occupations. It is pointless to engage a large number of young people in internships for jobs that will disappear in a few years. It will only add to the unemployment challenge.
How is Cars45 building the talent and innovation pipeline for the nation’s automotive industry?
For us, we believe that the long-term success of the automotive industry depends on the strength and quality of our current and future talents.
As market makers, we really do not have anyone to learn from and therefore we continue to ensure that our talent management initiatives are geared towards developing our people for today’s needs as well as future possibilities. While we are not yet 100% there, we continue to work at ensuring there is a clear succession plan for all our critical roles.
We have developed leadership and functional competencies that will help drive our growth ambitions and this forms the basis for our recruitment efforts as well as learning and development interventions. Our in-house employer branding initiatives are expected to help our employees refer their friends to join our workforce. The third layer of our recruitment process is a company immersion session where we allow prospective candidates to visit our select business locations, to mystery shop the employee experience by asking our employees questions while they do their job. The outcome is that the prospective candidate would either fall in love with our employer value proposition or otherwise before the last stage of their interviews.
We also partner with the NYSC to ensure that we are continuously helping to absorb young graduates transiting from education to employment and training them to be ready for our kind of industry. From the time an employee joins us, we have special programs such as the management trainee program, the middle manager fast-track program, the emerging leaders’ program and the senior managers program to cater for each of our five leadership passages. This is in addition to the very rigorous on-the job training that our people are exposed to daily.
We understand that after training employees, you must also ensure you see them in the light of the new knowledge they now possess; otherwise, they will leave for a higher bargain. So, our reward systems and other employee engagement initiatives are targeted at ensuring that we retain our high potential employees.
What are the 3 things especially young people should know about acing interviews?
Firstly, young people need to always “Be prepared”, like the timeless motto of the Boys Scout says. I know that in this age where attention span is short, some of our young people want it easy breezy. However, nothing can replace the traditions of excellence and hard work, as such they must strive to do the following – research the company and its brand persona; be at the interview location on time and dress well for the interview.
Secondly, they need to know the answer to fundamental interview questions. It is important to always remember that a job is a solution to a company’s problem through a desk. They must remember to use appropriate language and be emotionally intelligent – telling the interviewer that “you smell nice” may not work.
Thirdly, be authentic. Be confident and remember to maintain eye contact with the interviewer. If you have done your research, answering the question – “do you have any question for us?” would not be a challenge. However, it isn’t compulsory to answer that question, but if you must ask, please ask only intelligent questions.
If I might add a fourth, pray and trust God for the favour factor.
How would you describe your organization’s philosophy for hiring, nurturing and retaining talents?
We hire the best and retain the best. We have an environment that allows everyone to thrive both on the job and by way of personal development. We have an inside joke that 3 months with us could be like a lifetime in some other places because we are a fast-paced and innovation driven business. We consistently invest heavily in our high potential talents.
We have noticed a strong relationship between your organization and the NYSC. What’s driving this engagement?
We are an intentional organization. We want to be part of the solution to our nation’s unemployment problem. Nigeria’s automotive industry is a big one that has remained fragmented and unstructured till now and as we have taken the lead in putting a structure to the industry by creating a platform that allows sellers and buyers of cars to exchange value quickly, transparently and with unhindered access to independent relevant information required for decision making, we know the only thing that can limit our ambition is the quality of our people.
We have found a good collaborator in NYSC as they have given us a ready pipeline for harvesting fresh minds that we can easily develop to join us in solving Africa’s problems within the auto industry value chain. We are also happy that NYSC is appreciative of our efforts in this direction.
The nomenclature has changed from personnel management to Human Resources and now people operations in many organizations. What is the one thing that hasn’t changed?
The people are at the front and centre and rightly so, the most critical element of any organization. HR has evolved radically and will continue to change in nomenclature as technology continues to deepen and the needs of the workforce continues to change. No matter the change in name, the need to efficiently manage the ‘people’ usually referred to as the ‘employees’ will remain constant.
Every organization is unique in its requirement, culture, policies and procedures but the value of the human beings in it called the ‘people’ remains constant and unchanging.
While your strategies for sourcing top talent and building a talent pool to fill future vacancies, managing staff retention through employee engagement, improving employee wellness, compensation and benefits, delivering learning and development or complying with labour laws will continue to change as time and nomenclature changes, the quality of your people will remain a principal determinant of your organizational success.
What is the future of work in Nigeria and how can employers brace up for it?
Technology is already changing the way we work and the work we do. This will likely continue until technology and work operate in a borderless and seamless environment. Automation, including robotics and AI, is advancing quickly and will change the types of jobs we do, how many jobs there are and how we value them. Preparing to share space with robots as colleagues or learning new skills as robots take over the most repetitive or dangerous tasks should be on the front burner in the new decade.
HR Managers must have the experience and skills necessary to communicate effectively with employees, while also providing a strong direction over the implementation of automation within their organisations. Functional leaders will need to build competencies to manage a hybrid workforce to ensure a harmonious existence of human and robot workers.
While this new technology offers plenty of advantages in terms of saving time, increasing efficiency, eliminating biases, and more, it can also take the ‘human’ out of human resources. I foresee there will be a lot of pressure on organizations as they risk losing sight of their company’s most valuable resource: its people, if they become too focused on the numbers or data points.
L-R Cars45 CEO, Etop Ikpe and Timi