By Mike Adendorff
Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed guests, the Ambassador and Consul-General of Zimbabwe, the CEO of Zororo-PhumulanI and members of his staff, and most of all, to the young recipients of the laptops to be presented today.
What better way to spend an afternoon than to be at a gathering where young people – today’s achievers and tomorrow’s front runners – are to receive unlooked-for rewards for their hard work and outstanding performance?
First I want to say, at the expense of stating the obvious, that when a private company chooses to channel its corporate social investment Rands in the direction of promising young graduates of the schooling system, it is scoring a double triumph.
Not only is it redistributing some of its profits in an undeniably worthy direction, but it is also investing significantly in the future of our countries, our societies and our economies.
This is surely an investment that will yield all of us, including the investors, handsome dividends. It will do so by putting in the right hands – hands that will know how to value and make good use of the investment – the very tools that everyone needs who wants to have a stake in the economy, or to make her or his mark in society, no matter what their chosen field or career might be.
Bestowers of these sought-after tools
However, it is not really the bestowers of these sought-after tools to whom I want to address my few remarks today, but rather to the young recipients of these tools.
I’m going to limit my talk to just four things to think about that I’d like to leave with you as you go forward in your chosen careers. I was going to make it “four pieces of advice”, but I know that advice does not always go down well with young people.
I said these points might help you in your chosen careers, but in truth, for many of you, your chosen career may not last very long! For many of you, it will be a case of careers that choose you as you find your way through life, because it is well known that these days it is a very small minority who will stick to just one single career path throughout their working lives.
Rather, most will change not only the company or organisation for which they work, but the nature of their work four, five, six, seven or more times during the four or so decades that they are likely to be earning a living, or employing others.
It is also a widely-accepted fact of the world of work today that because of the current pace of technological development, many of the jobs and fields in which you will work have not even been heard of yet. Just think of the implications of that for your life!
The last fact, and it is a fact, about today’s world of work is that many of the jobs in which your parents’ generation were employed, and many of the jobs for which you yourselves will be trained or educated, will disappear partially – in other words fewer people, not more, will be employed in them – or disappear altogether, within a decade.
And these are not only the more obvious ones that one can foresee being mechanised. As artificial intelligence makes its presence felt in more and more areas of our lives, even some occupations and professions which are sought-after and prestigious today, are likely to disappear, or to be performed by robotic devices, for instance, computer programmers, and lawyers in some fields.
So the first thought I would like to share is this: Remain open to the world, alert to trends that may be what are sometimes called “weak signals” of what is to come. Read widely – don’t just look at the pictures – and let such reading inform your conversations with friends.
And most importantly, try to think of yourself as resilient, as able to bounce back, pick yourself up from disappointment, and re-invent yourself. You may surprise yourself where you may end up. Many young graduates end up excelling in fields vastly different from the one for which they trained.
The second thing to think about is closely related to the first. It is this: Think about preparing yourself for unemployment! The very same factors in the world of work as it is today that I have just been talking about just may mean that the work you have your heart set on is simply not to be had.
Let me tell you a little, true story of Ayanda (not her real name), an intern whom we selected to assist us with a big statistical task we had in the Department of Higher Education and Training.
There were over 200 applicants, all university graduates, for this one intern position. There was little time to sift through all of these so we short-listed only those who had Honours degrees in Statistics without looking at the others.
Story of Amanda
Ayanda was the successful candidate. She had five distinctions in very impressive-sounding statistical disciplines… a very presentable young woman, who knew how to conduct herself in an interview. With those attributes, we would all think that she had the world at her feet … but she could not find a suitable job without experience, so she applied to the Department as an intern. I find this story quite a scary one!
Ayanda stayed on with the Department, but as a Senior Administrative Officer, not as a statistician, which illustrates a couple of the points I am making this afternoon. She even put herself through a Teachers’ Diploma to learn more about the field she had found herself in – not her chosen profession, the one she had qualified for.
So, what do I mean by “preparing yourself for unemployment”?
It could mean that you need to keep in mind the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur, of looking for a need that needs to be fulfilled and starting your own business. A lot is said about entrepreneurship these days, as more and more people start to realise that unemployment is inherent in today’s economies, in other words, not something that is just bad news for a while, and is bound to improve.
But it is not for everyone to start up – and sustain – a small business. Listen to the Money Show on Radio 702 or Cape Talk on weekday evenings, especially Thursdays when Pavlo Phitidis makes his valuable regular inputs on running a small business.
He gives excellent advice, but it is also sobering advice, that helps one to get an idea of whether you might have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Or whether you should rather choose another path, for instance that of self-employment. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur like Edwin Anderson, the Visionary who started Zororo-Phumulani.
I think we make a mistake to blame people for failure who don’t make it as entrepreneurs, when about 80% of small businesses are known to fail in their first year.
However, many people these days are finding fulfilment, and earning a good living, as self-employers, usually working out of their homes, with very few overhead costs, and few if any employees to worry about.
My third thought to share with you concerns your performance in your work, whether you are an employee in a corporate or an organ of government, or a manager. Over the past few decades, performance has become an important element of work. Government and many businesses have been persuaded of the importance of performance management.
Targets, performance plans, performance measurement, reports, and reports on reports have become the order of the day. I did a count last year of how many reports I had to submit in one year (not little one-paragraph affairs), and found that I had produced no fewer than 53 reports. That is a lot of time taken up in trying to persuade others that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing!
It is too much to go into in detail here, but what this tendency in management has led to is “performativity”, and this has rapidly become an epidemic in the corporate world and government alike.
Performativity is not the same as good performance. It is the strongly-felt urge to be seen to be performing – as a company, as a department or as an individual. Achieving targets may be very different from actually achieving what we need to be achieving.
We are doing so much measuring and reporting these days that we are not getting the job done! In the Far East there is a saying: “If you spend all your time measuring the pig, the pig will not get fat!”
And there is something else that is a growing tendency in our society that comes with performativity. It is the box-ticking mentality. If I can tick the box which indicates that this or that job is done, I have done the job!
So much of what passes for success and achievement in the world of work today is about compliance with targets and performance management requirements, rather than with actually accomplishing real results. And we wonder why so many projects overrun their timeframes by several years, and overrun their budgets by billions of Rands!
The fourth and final thought that I want to leave with you, is about being humble. Today’s popular culture is based on “Look at me! See how well I am doing! See the car I have just bought! See where I take my holidays!”
Somehow, I think we might need to re-think this look-at-me, selfie culture as we start out in our careers. The temptation is great – after all, “everyone” is doing it. … But the fact that so many are doing it does not mean that it is doing us any good. Psychologists have begun to diagnose and treat more and more patients suffering from all manner of health complaints – physical and mental – related to the stress of constantly trying to stay on top, of keeping up with the Kardashians, of making others jealous of our success.
Perhaps we’d do well to listen to the sages who wrote in China so long ago, in that wonderful book of ageless wisdom, the Tao te Ching,
“The wise person does not boast of what he will do, therefore he succeeds. He who boasts of what he has done, and what he will do, succeeds in nothing. He who is over-proud of his work, achieves nothing that endures.
You are justly proud of your achievements this afternoon, and who can blame you for celebrating? But always try to remember: Let your works speak for you and define you, not your words.
I thank you.
Mike Adendorff is Project Manager: Open Learning at the Department of Higher Education and Training. He was speaking at the Zororo Phumulani laptop giveaway event this week
Hereforth is the list of winners from the Zororo-Phumulani 2020 Laptop Giveaway Edition of the Matriculating Class of 2019
Lindelani F. Xaba
Bongokwakhe H.J. Shezi
Madalisto P. Amos
Derek Makore Gwekwere
Melody R. Murasiranwa
Joel Takunda Jabangwe
Lario R. Manyeruke
Portia Mazviita Tawanda Mtawarirs
Vuyo R. Manzini
Ruvarashe T. Tafamombe
Samantha M. Tembo
Thembelani N. Sithole
Nokubonga B. Osarenen
Kupakwashe G. Mboho
Tinos T. Mandonye
Mpilonhle Pilonhle S. Kubheka
Ruvarashe M. Nyamupengedengu
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