I recently met with a client, Head of People for a large corporate, and during our discussion about the current challenges being experienced within the organisation she mentioned a term I’d not heard before – “juniorisation”. Unpacking this further, we discussed the impact hiring young, inexperienced people (“juniors”) was having on many of their operational teams.

And just last week, whilst driving to an appointment, I heard Joanne Joseph, 702 afternoon drive presenter, make mention of the same challenges experienced in the newsroom. She was discussing the recent allegations made against the press, particularly regarding the information coming out of the Zondo commission and suggested that perhaps the lack of skill and experience was contributing to challenges with accuracy in media coverage and the opportunity for unscrupulous parties to take advantage.

Unsustainable Structures

With many corporate businesses rationalising their organograms, ridding themselves from unnecessary layers of middle management, team structures have shifted from fairly stable pyramids – team leader, supported by competent experienced specialists, and a raft of juniors – to a host of juniors and a single manager who is also tasked with delivering skilled outputs.

In addition to reducing the impact and performance of these teams operationally, these teams place undue stress on the manager who often ends up leaving or burning out.

By way of an example, the previous team structure typically included a Financial Manager, a skilled junior FM, an experienced accountant and perhaps some newbies who received training and exposure to equip them to grow in their careers. Now, the Financial Manager has just a team of four ‘clerical’ level hires who lack the experience, skills and exposure to perform without supervision and guidance.

Of course, this leads to operational inefficiencies as the vicious cycle continues. Manager is under pressure to produce results and focuses on the technical aspects of the job, failing to spend time sharing experience, developing skill and mentoring the juniors within the team. The youngsters remain limited in their outputs as they fail to receive the required mentorship and development from the manager and frustrated by the lack of the team’s ability the manager fails to delegate work and chooses to do it himself. Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.

My client indicated that operational inefficiency was leading to re-consideration within the business of structure and an attempt to rectify what she calls the juniorisation corporate syndrome.

What causes juniorisation?

I’ve given this some thought and don’t seem to be able to put my finger on a single reason. I suspect that it’s a range of factors that are contributing to the juniorisation of corporate SA.

We talk to skilled candidates daily and there seems to be a disconnect between what organisations are willing – and able – to pay versus what skilled, experienced candidates are earning/demanding. With limited budgets, many organisations are forced to employ less experienced, less skilled people into roles they traditionally expected higher outputs from.

Emigration of skilled professionals and the (forced) retirement in corporate of experienced Boomers is also leading to a relatively sudden brain drain which is impacting the availability of skill.

As companies also focus on achieving their transformation goals, their budget constraints make it difficult to tap into skilled and experienced candidates from designated groups as these candidates are typically in high demand, short supply and carry a remuneration premium. Youngsters with potential are hired with the intention of growing their experience and exposure for the benefit of the business, as encouraged by the Employment Equity Act and yet, this fails to materialise. In many cases the internal infrastructure to enable and support this development of talent is lacking as performance and tangible results achievement continue to be the measurements for management.

Managers who’re under increasing pressure to meet targets, with less resource, are unlikely to spend time on activities which don’t produce immediate results. As they ‘saying goes’, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Perhaps its time that corporate South Africa made mentorship and development an incentivised KPI metric?

Our own industry is also suffering from the ‘juniorisation’ challenge, as many agencies hire younger, inexperienced people on very low basics and expect them to meet ever-increasing hurdles to make commission. The inevitable churn that happens creates a vicious circle of ill-equipped, poor-performing individuals who contribute to a bad reputation for recruiters amongst clients and candidates. We too need to consider how we shift our thinking and focus on bringing in the right skill at the right level to manage the complexities of 21st century resourcing.

Building the Bridge

For many of the individuals who might be classified as “too junior”, the issue is not a lack of qualification, but rather a lack of experience, exposure and the skill, knowledge and confidence that comes with time.

Perhaps the answer lies not, in re-structuring the teams within the organisation, but rather about building the bridge between juniors and their managers, most of whom are technical specialists focused on output?

With so many skilled, experienced and patient Boomers being forced out of corporate due to fixed retirement ages, there is a real risk in ‘juniorising’ corporate South Africa further. Rather, organisations could see the opportunity this presents as well.

Imagine if these highly experienced retirees where retained – not to perform the technical aspects of the job – but as coaches?

Free up the managers to perform their work and manage the processes. Give the retirees a sense of purpose and utilise their skills and experience to catapult the juniors into the technicians and performers the business needs them to be.

Boomers are the bridge to transformation, and the answer to the current corporate challenge of “juniorisation”, if you ask me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.