Workforce engagement designed for Africa

Poor communications and hostile relations between employers and employees in the mining sector has led to the development of a workforce engagement solution by Deloitte Digital. The “notion” incorporates technology, content and a human aspect to facilitate effective two-way communications, says director Tim Bishop.

This workforce engagement offering is set to bring the workforce closer to the employer at a low cost, Bishop told Finweek. Besides communicating information to workers in a personalised way, workers have the opportunity to communicate back to the employer. “Workforce engagement turns rock driller 457, into Sipho.  Age 27, father of two, a Pirates fan who wants to run a mine one day,” he says. Subsequently, the “evil employer” becomes an employer who cares about employees and wants to empower them and train them to achieve their career goals.

LABOUR RELATIONS INNOVATIONS: Tim Bishop, director at Deloitte Digital.

LABOUR RELATIONS INNOVATIONS: Tim Bishop, director at Deloitte Digital. Photo: Provided

The content disseminated to miners is “functional” or work specific i.e. safety information, updates on power cuts at work or the areas in which they live, information about training certifications, information explaining wage slips. It includes questionnaires to survey how employers can make things better for workers. There is also a “human content” stream which offers lifestyle services. This includes incentives like airtime, vouchers and updates on their favourite soccer team for example.

Bishop says the offering is very iterative, changing daily to remain relevant. It gives workers access to information and messaging 24/7. It ultimately enables health, safety, career progression and a proper relationship between the worker, his employer and the greater goals of the company and his future.

All content and communications are made available via SMS, interactive USSD and mobi channels as miners have different mobile devices. Bishop says miners are incentivised to interact as content is beneficial to their careers, work environments and home lives.  Additionally workers are compensated with airtime credits or zero rates for services.

Considering language barriers, Bishop assures that extensive research was conducted in the last year to determine preferred languages and literacy levels. The offering uses all sorts of languages and relevant colloquialisms to communicate messages, as opposed to sending “blanket messages” to an entire workforce.

To bring about a “trust” element, acting as a mediator between a big company and the workforce, personas or “like-minded human beings” as Bishop describes, will be introduced to interact with the multi-cultural workforce. These personas are relatable to employees, raising their concerns and challenges to employers and simultaneously make employees aware of career  opportunities available.

The fact that their employer cares about them, they feel more like a person rather than a payroll number.

The mining sector is only an extreme example of a disintermediated workforce, says Bishop. Currently Deloitte Digital has three clients from different sectors. The offering can serve retail, construction and healthcare sectors too.  Communications are transferred predominately on mobile devices. “In Africa, with regards to mobile distribution, every single worker has their own device,” he says.

This mix of content, human intellect, ethnography and technology is different to existing workforce engagement solutions in that it is Africa-focussed. Most tools aren’t compatible with devices, as they are often web-based and inaccessible to the African workforce. “None of the systems cater for the African worker,” says Bishop.

Bishop adds that it may be a challenge to implement  changes based on worker feedback, given the economic and financial obstacles companies face. In these cases, employees should be informed about the progress to avoid false rumours spreading throughout an organisation. He says if workforce engagement in any way helps smooth labour unrest or ease wage negotiations, then it is a “bonus”.

One of the goals is to have everyone in the company, from the cleaner to the CEO pulling in the same direction. In industries where 96-97% of the workforce is in the field, it is important that they know who they’re working for, what the vision is and what options are available to them. “The fact that their employer cares about them, they feel more like a person rather than a payroll number. So the market for this is huge,” Bishop says.

*This article was featured in Finweek magazine.

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