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Digital daze

Experts urge employers to reach out to young talent as early as possible

The human resources industry is evolving at a breakneck speed, and challenges are lurking at every corner. Speakers at the recent the Singapore Human Capital Summit highlighted trends they believe will shape HR practice in the coming decades, ranging from job-hopping and skills mismatch to social media and generational gaps in terms of work attitude and expectations.

RBL Group principal Justin Allen noted that lifelong employment has clearly become a thing of the past, while job-hopping has become the new norm. However, that doesn't mean that when employees leave an organisation, they should be out of sight, out of mind. It's important to cultivate relationships when they are with you - and continue those relationships after they have left, Allen said. "Almost no one stays on more than 10 years any more. It is therefore important to stay in touch when a good person leaves. You also have to remove people who aren't doing well. It's difficult, but it has to be done," he added.

Speakers agreed that a new human-capital paradigm was needed to manage the realities of the 21st century workplace. One intriguing theme that emerged was around the concept of experience - the idea that while experienced workers are an asset, they can also be a liability. "In times of change, experience could be your worst enemy," warned Wong Su-yen, senior partner and managing director for Southeast Asia at Mercer.

According to Andrew Grant, director at McKinsey & Company, coping with change was critically important as organisations of the future will need to be much more flexible than in the past. They will need to be "wired for change rather than stability" as clear-cut policies will only get in the way.

"When it comes to change, many people have got the direction of change right, but they have the pace of change wrong," Grant said. "It took Britain 200 years to double its GDP following the Industrial Revolution. It took China just 10 years. Future-proofing an organisation is about speeding up the ability to make changes."

A key strategy for speeding up the pace of change is learning how to trust employees with less experience - at least in the traditional sense. While younger employees may lack job experience, they are far more seasoned when it comes to technology.

"Very few business leaders understand the digital revolution," Grant added. "No one over the age of 30 understands what digitilisation will mean for consumers and employees. We need to trust people 10 years earlier than previously."

To take advantage of what the young can offer, Grant said employers should reach out to potential staff early. "You used to reach out to potential employees in the last year of graduate school. Now it should be the last year of high school. Social media requires that you build a relationship and engage people earlier," he said.

The impact of social media has been far and wide, Grant added. In the past, many companies doing business in China only engaged young people at top universities in first-tier cities. But technological change has moved the goal posts. "Social media allows us to reach that exceptional individual in second- and third-tier cities," he said.

Amid increasing staff mobility, social media can play a key role in various areas. Take talent retention. If used properly, social media can provide companies with valuable insight into what staff are thinking. It can also give them an ability to reach out and interact with employees.

Social media enables bottom-up decision-making, and that can be a challenge for senior management. "It enables smart chaos," Grant said. "Most business leaders don't know how to manage this."

The young enter the workforce with impressive technological skills, but most of the time they lack key soft skills. This is especially true in Asia. Many graduates don't know how to manage people, debate or work as part of a team. "Much of the talent coming out of Chinese universities is stronger academically than the global average," Grant says. "They have the hard skills. But their soft skills are not as strong… Chinese graduates come into an organisation with hills and valleys. The challenge is: how do you turn those hills into valleys?"