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Forget millennials, think perennial

There’s a rapidly growing labour segment and it’s not millennials, writes SPENCER PITTS, chief technologist for VMware EMEA’s Digital Workspace

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After years of hand wringing and think pieces about how we need to accommodate millennials, how they require a different approach to hiring, leading and developing, businesses now need to be aware of their perennial workforce. Whereas millennials are in their 20s and 30s, to be a perennial is to be over 55.

Why the new focus? Because perennials are now the fastest growing segment of workers in a number of industrialised countries. In Europe, countries like Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy are expected to see a significant increase in their over 55 workforces, while in the UK, over 50s now make up nearly one third of employees, up from around one in five in the early 1990s. In the US, they’re predicted to become the largest demographic in work by 2024, having been the smallest in 1994, while in the likes of Japan and South Korea it’s happening at an even faster rate. According to Statistics South Africa, the current skilled (managers, professionals, technicians) workforce in the perennial age group is higher than the skilled millennials.

The reasons for this are fairly straight forward. People are living and staying fitter for longer, pensions aren’t stretching as far, age is no longer a legal constraint in most countries, and the work we do isn’t perhaps as physically strenuous as it once was.

What that does mean, however, is that in the very near future we’re going to have workforces which range in age from 18 or 21 to late 60s and early 70s. So how do we go about accommodating these increasingly varied demographics, while contending with the changing dynamics of how people want to work, in order to get all employees as engaged and productive as possible?

The changing nature of the workforce

Increasingly diverse age ranges are just one macro factor having an impact on how we work. It’s coming at a time when expectations about how we interact with organisations, as both employee and customer, have evolved beyond all recognition. I want something now, I click a button and I get it, whether it’s a book, a car or a takeaway. Call it the Amazon/Uber effect or the consumerisation of IT – whichever we cut it, people want, and expect, to have the same level of experience, at home, at work or in a shop, irrespective of provider.

It’s a clash with the classic supply of IT equipment and services, where everyone has the same device, access to the same apps, and works in the same way.

This is no longer the experience employees want, and it doesn’t work for employers either. They want engaged and productive workforces to deliver better services to customers. Those organisations that empower employees with the apps and tools they want to do their jobs almost double the increase in service quality compared to those that don’t (17 per cent versus 9 per cent), according to a VMware study with Forbes.

Once enterprises understand that, they start to look at how they design their workplaces in ways that enable a less restrictive, but still controlled, approach to working. By doing so, they are able to deliver multiple working approaches to their staff – so the perennial can work in one way, the millennial in another if they chose, but the output and results remain the same.

They can also unlock new approaches to roles which can create a real differentiator – the smart colleague.

Why millennials and perennials don’t matter – but the smart colleague does

Consider a supermarket. It’s where many of us have our first experience of work, as sullen teenagers tasked with stacking shelves and managing checkouts. To be honest, while the labour might be cheap, the customer experience matches the lack of vision and thus investment in this role – perhaps one of blank stares and surly responses when asked if a certain product is in stock, or where something can be found. A few years ago, that might be acceptable, but with the retail landscape in constant flux, and consumers more generally more than twice as likely to recommend a company or brand based on the quality of service (66 per cent) than they are on price (31 per cent) according to one report, established players need new ways of differentiating..

To be honest, the experience we get is the result of years of not placing value in these roles. What if we started to? We’re talking about retail, but it could just as easily apply to travel, transport, healthcare, banking. What if we make these front-line roles aspirational, rather than something to endure?

How do we do that? By empowering employees. Give them the tools to know what’s happening at any given moment. That means technology, but not simply behind a till or workstation. On the floor, getting to customers rather than making the customer find them. How much better would a train cancellation, or stock issue, be for those wanting to use the service if employees were able to proactively engage with them, rather than be forced into queues. Using mobile devices with chatbots, for example, a worker can engage with the customer and provide guidance, see if something is in stock or on time, offer alternatives and act as a point of sale in the right circumstances. The customer receives a consistent, positive experience, delivered through a human touch enhanced by technology – in other words, a smart colleague.

Not only does this improve the customer experience, it stands out as a real employment differentiator. It upends the way we perceive certain roles. Suddenly it’s not about cheap labour, but about having the right skills, and the compensation to reflect that. It might be that rather than natural progression meaning moving away from the shop floor, it’s actually moving on to the shop floor and becoming a smart colleague.

It’s not a route that is only for perennials, or that millennials are barred from, but one that is designed with the customer in mind, and then asks who we have that fulfils that role’s criteria.

Employee, not platform, choice

It’s time for the worker to dictate how they work, not be dictated to by the platform. That could mean it’s perennials on the shop floor with a tablet, millennials in an office with a desktop. Whatever it looks like, every single person deserves the same consideration and access to the devices and apps they need to do their job. It’s the only way to ensure improvement in productivity and engagement and, most importantly, a better experience for the customer.

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GoDaddy mixes marketing with web builder

GoDaddy has introduced powerful marketing tools that help entrepreneurs expand beyond selling on social media, writes BRYAN TURNER

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GoDaddy has launched Websites + Marketing to the South African market, pairing a drag-and-drop website builder with a suite of marketing tools designed to help small businesses with little to no marketing know-how reach new customers.

“Website builders are enabling or allowing entrepreneurs to get online in an easier way by themselves,” says Selina Bieber, regional director for Turkey and the MENA at GoDaddy, during a recent visit to Johannesburg. “Getting an online space has a stigma of having to get professionals for help or having to overcome technical struggles to get a website working. After this, what’s next on their evolutionary journey for them? Before Websites + Marketing, that bridge didn’t exist.”

These features help entrepreneurs move from a platform where many South Africans start: social media. A website is the next logical step for entrepreneurs once they reach scale, where they ask the question: “What should I do next to achieve my goals?”

“There’s a step before a website, that is people starting off on social media,” says Bieber. “For example, one of our customers, confetti.events, has a very successful business. It’s an event planning business that she ran on Instagram, and then built a website with GoDaddy with the website builder platform. She was at the point where she needed to take this step. We’re here to show these entrepreneurs that it’s possible to take the next step, and we understand it’s still difficult, which is why we offer a little bit of guidance by integrating what they already have. This creates something that’s more meaningful that they own, and can track and control.

“When you look at it from a small business perspective, the platform is intuitive. So entrepreneurs can go to your website and it tells you ‘90% of your profile is complete’, like on LinkedIn. The thought process that accompanies the users is what makes Websites + Marketing so strong. So it works on the entire spectrum of website owners, whether they’re established or just starting. As GoDaddy, we can help you with the next step in your journey online, and we shouldn’t think of it just as a website. This is actually talking about an online presence. Looking at our entry into the local market, we’ve obviously been around for years in terms of having customers from all over the world, but when we look serving this market specifically, we’ve really tried to connect with the local market and the local customers.”

The roots of the solution are based open source software, to encourage rapid growth of the platform through various developers who can contribute freely.

“We believe in an open environment, not a closed environment,” says Arnold Blinn, Chief Product Architect at GoDaddy. “That’s why we encourage platforms like WordPress, because they are diverse and open source. As we leverage open source, we contribute back to open source. We think Websites + Marketing can also play in that play in that game, so we’re figuring out how to do that, and are committed to doing it.

“The platform makes sure that an entrepreneur’s online presence is available everywhere. We know online presence is more than your website. It’s your Facebook page and your Instagram. It’s also the reviews on review websites, and even your own website. That’s bridging this gap to social. It works hand-in-hand with a growth strategy, and our goal is to keep businesses online as they grow.”

Read more about the added offerings of Websites + Marketing.

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Real threats of robots: changing the WAY we work

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With the rise of robots, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), the employees of today are in panic mode about the state of their future career prospects. Will they have a job in 20 years’ time… 10 years’ time… or even next year?

New technology continues to burst out daily to change the way we work, and on the surface, this automation of processes previously done by human hands would seem to present companies with the opportunity to downsize. The spectre of an apocalyptic, dwindling future workforce is naturally terrifying for most people, especially in Africa, which is traditionally manpower-centric.  But, the reality is that these super-intelligent machines and robots might well be doing humankind a massive favour.

“Machine learning will enable technology to replace the work of hands and the workplace of the future will probably include much more head-work, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that machines will reduce the number of jobs available,  they will change the way we work and the definition of what ‘work’ is,” says Deseré Orrill, Chairman, OLE!CONNECT, a company that is a pioneer in the field of personalised, data-led marketing.

Orrill is a successful global entrepreneur who is currently completing her MBA in Design Thinking, and it’s fitting that she will deliver the welcome address and Chair, the Future of Work session at AfricaCom 2019 at the CTICC on Wednesday 13 November 2019.

Orrill will also moderate the discussion on Creating a Culture of Lifelong Learning, a topic, which big hitters Simon Rey (Ecobank), Yumna Tayob (FNB Bank) and Hendrik Malan (Frost & Sullivan) will all weigh in on. It’s an issue that is crucial to Africa’s harnessing of its human potential, and the panel will share their insights into how education and reskilling are key to Africa making the most of its human capital, as well as the importance of ensuring effective lifelong learning in the modern economy.

Future of Work @ AfricaCom 2019 will seek to unpack a wide range of issues at the top of the agenda for business owners and industry leaders. In the African context this includes coming to grips with digital literacy for the modern workforce, building a solid talent pipeline and succession planning through reskilling, as well as strategic workforce planning to harness AI in order to improve organisations, as well as their employees.

However, it’s not just employees who face challenges in the new workplace frontier, as employers have to get a handle on issues such as, understanding what the future of work means for employees AND themselves, how to achieve executive support for new workplace initiatives, and how technology can play a game-defining role in human resources.

The battle between old school and new school has plenty of spark points in the modern work environment. Business leaders will benefit from the discussion about harnessing workplace technologies, as well as using design thinking to create an integrated digital workplace. Discussions and presentations will include Leveraging New Ways of Working to Create Sustained Results in Africa, as well as a discussion on Closing the Skills Gap: Preparing for an Uncertain Future, moderated by Mooketsi Bennedict Tekere, CEO, Ngwana Enterprises with Devaan Parbhoo, Manager, Learning Design & Learning Development at Santam.

Humans in the workplace complete tasks with hands and heads but, also with heart.  Orrill highlights the fact that AI and ML cannot replicate human creativity, sensitivity and sensibility, which are essential ingredients in all creative and caring professions, along with those where human intuition and the fabled ‘6th sense’ play a role. 

“These functions and skills just can’t be replaced by machines, although machines and AI can certainly offer incredible support to the humans involved in these professions.  We also believe robots and automation will contribute to the creation of positive, dynamic and fluid workplaces of the future,” says Orrill. “In fact, in advanced economies where greater use of robotics, automation and AI is prevalent, unemployment today is at the lowest it has been in decades. So, the future of work is not a gloomy wasteland… on the contrary, it’s a bright and promising place.”

To share in this vision for a optimistic new working world, and to keep on trend with workplace best practice, and cutting edge insights, take your place at Future of Work @ AfricaCom 2019 at the CTICC on Wednesday 13 November 2019.

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