Thursday 2 October 2014

Employers & Youth Employability - interview with Brent Wyborn, HR Director (Hollard Insurance Group)

Large employers do what they have to in terms of the social problems in their markets. They can't exactly avoid legal responsiblities, but a few employers go beyond the minimum.

An even smaller group of employers try to find a sustainable business model to drive their social investment projects, knowing that such projects will outlive the variable sources of funding which they normally depend on.

Hollard Insurance Group is one such company, and the social investment project is Harambee Work For Work,  an innovative new approach to youth unemployment which intersects with the universal business need for talented new entrants.

Hollard employs 2,547 people, who are served by 35 HR practitioners, administering an annual payroll of R1,2 billion, and paying a Skills Development Levy of approximately R12 million.

From Holland to Hollard, from HR Officer to HR Director - Brent Wyborn

The full interview with Brent will appear in the 2015 edition of the Skills Handbook. Below are some snippets:
  • Brent job shadowed an HR Manager at SABMiller after completing his matric, and before studying at varsity. He went on to read for a B.Com, studying economics and industrial psychology.
  • He completed an International Management Studies degree in Netherlands at the University of Maastricht, where courses and materials were provided in both English and Dutch, worked for Pepkor as an HR Officer for a short period, and then in 1999 was hired by Hollard and has been with them since then, during a period of very rapid growth for the organisation.
  • Brent has been in Hollard's HR function since 1999 when the company was pioneering new approaches to a very traditional (and some say boring) industry, and has supported its growth to its current multinational status. He is one of South Africa's youngest HR Directors, having just turned 40. 

On the value of diversity and social impact

  • Hollard is one of South Africa's multinational success stories, along with MTN and SABMiller, operating in Australia, India, China, UK, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, and soon Ghana.  
  • The diversity challenges South Africa faces are one of the reasons Brent enjoys working in South Africa, and he says it gives our managers an advantage in the diverse global market place.
  • He suggests that senior talent are increasingly looking for organisations to work, where they have more autonomy of decision making, and more opportunity to positively impact their society, something that fits well with the Hollard ethos.

On HR practitioners becoming business leaders

  • His success as Head of People has spilled over to an increase in his operational responsibilities, with his role now classified as "Executive Head: Group Services", with fourteen different operational functions reporting into him, including marketing, people, IT, strategy, continuous improvement, and aspects of procurement. This is evidence of the potential for HR professionals to shape and lead their organisations way beyond the administrative back-end that some practitioners are relegated to.
  • Along the same theme, Brent pointed out that the new SABMiller world-wide CEO (Alan Clark) started out as a Training & Development Manager and psychologist.

On Youth unemployment

With South Africa sitting at number three in the world for youth unemployment, I asked Brent about youth employability, and what employers could do.
  • Brent pointed to the Harambee Work For Work success story which succeeded in its job creation target of 10,000 people by the end of 2014.
  • Harambee was birthed in a human capital exchange forum between Hollard and its sister companies over four years ago and has now gone on to add 77 corporate employers in several other industry sectors, based on a sustainable business idea (sourcing quality new staff) with potential for major social benefit (reducing youth unemployment).
  • Brent pointed out several ways in which employers could be more innovative in redesigning work and jobs in order to open up more work opportunities for youth, including: 
    •  Having two entry level employees doing work that was previously done by one employee
    • Scaling back a more complex job into two simpler jobs which ultimately career-path to the original job
    • Re-evaluating jobs that are considered too complex for new entrants, and finding ways of adjusting them so that they can be tackled by youth. Hollard has successfully experimented with many job roles for unemployed youth that were previously thought too advanced for them to handle.
More info on Harambee for employers can be found here. Work seekers can click here for more information.

 Read the full interview in the Skills Handbook which you can order here.

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