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Unilever: tapping into South Africa’s top talent

Categories: COMPANY NEWS , Skills Development
Investing in South Africa's youth and paying particular attention to their skills development is key to the country's future economic growth

South Africa is renowned for its natural beauty and rare earth minerals. However, the nation’s real wealth lies in its young people, especially millennials - people born between 1984 and 1996 – who are digital natives accustomed to employing technology to do more in less time by using fewer resources. By tapping into the potential of this national treasure and continually investing in the development and growth of the youth of the country, organisations and the country at large will be able to achieve the prosperity it is destined for.


For this to occur, local organisations must upskill our young people, who make up a giant 55 percent of our 35.8 million working-age population - that’s a lot of untapped talent. South Africa needs better trained, better qualified graduates to fill the local skills gap.

At first glance, one might think investing in employee training during economically challenging times is counter-intuitive because it requires a significant monetary investment and thus increased cost. However, if we didn’t invest in the development of our young professionals, it would be like a manufacturer not upgrading equipment, yet still expecting improved productivity. Companies have to encourage talent to stand out from the rest, and help these individuals make smart career decisions that will ultimately impact South Africa’s economic future. Hiring talent and not managing it is not an option.

Delivering the next generation of managerial talent

The first step in the journey towards youth empowerment begins with a company culture firmly focused on empowering and upskilling young people. Talent development should be seen as a key element of value propositions, and should go hand-in-hand with an unwavering commitment to invest in this area, regardless of the economic climate. Skills programmes must be used as a strategic step in building the leading consumer goods organisation of the future. Although the upfront investment in skills development is significant, the benefit of a company’s talent career-long development and leadership far outweighs the cost.

For initiatives like these to be successful, they have to place a very heavy emphasis on nurturing future leaders, and challenging today’s leaders with powerful conversations around fresh thinking, about the disciplines we practice and the markets in which we compete.

An example is the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). If you’ve got an idea to save the world, this is for you. The USLP sets stretching targets, including how we source raw materials and how consumers use our brands. The scale of our ambition means that we are finding new ways to partner with others in business, government and society, and we welcome the insight that young people bring to this programme.

Then, businesses have to have specialised programmes for millennials and youth at various stages of their academic or professional career. At Unilever for instance, we have three other large-scale skills development programmes running at the moment: the Unilever Leadership Internship Programme (ULIP), the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP), and we offer fully comprehensive engineering bursaries, which is so important in a county like South Africa which is desperate for engineering talent. For this to have full effect, partnerships with academia, government and industry are crucial.

Initiatives to uncover tomorrow’s inventors, innovators & entrepreneurs

The Unilever Internship Programme helps young students and graduates around the world acquire work experience. We encourage students to connect with us through our website for more details about how to apply for such an internship with us. Whether you’re a graduate looking for on-the-job training or a student looking for a hands-on internship, our programmes offer amazing business exposure, continuous mentoring, big responsibility supported by world-class training and development programs, as well as the potential for international travel. You won’t be filing or making coffee, that’s for sure.

Final year undergraduates and graduates with less than two years of work experience are eligible for the Unilever Future Leaders Programme which is designed to grow participants into managers, through hands-on learning alongside world-class experts. They are hired into a function and develop leadership skills by working on live projects which offer all the experience required to become ready for their first management role. This is a long-term two to three year plan with agile working hours so recruits can structure their day in a way that makes it most productive for them. The focus is on delivering their role in the way that best suits their style.

Unilever will soon be launching the exciting 2016 edition of Unilever’s Africa Idea Trophy competition. It forms part of Unilever’s Future Leaders league competition - an innovative global business competition for full-time students – that sees over 40000 applications globally from students in 59 different countries. The winners of Africa Idea Trophy will represent Africa at the Global finals in London, work with creative agencies and Unilever mentors, as well as the opportunity to secure an internship with the company.

August 2016 will see the roll-out of the #MakeYourMove pilot - youth employability workshops built to upskill attendees on business basics like Microsoft Office while building their commercial understanding. The pilot aims to reach over 2000 students in South Africa, after the success of the initial workshop which was held with over 100 students at GIBS earlier this year. The workshops speak to Small Medium Enterprise (SME) development and entrepreneurship, another South African growth area that Unilever is passionate about unlocking.

Nearly 70% of millennials say achieving a management or leadership role in their careers is important. Companies should encourage young people to challenge the stereotype that millennials are lazy and self-absorbed - Afri-millennials in particular are achieving incredible things in local businesses around the country. Millennials are excited, creative and ambitious, and employers can’t afford to lose the brilliant work that this passion brings to the company.

In order for companies to attract and retain millennials, they should aim to offer direct access to top business leaders as well as big, meaty projects to keep their youthful talent motivated and engaged. It’s the role of employers to give those filled with potential a little push in the right direction, and a big helping hand towards their journey to making a difference within their organisation and contribute towards the local economy. At the end of the day, it is not only our company that benefits but individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole.

By Mechell Chetty, Unilever Vice President: Human Resources




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