Preparing for the World of Work; A GYLA Conversation

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John Appiah wears a lot of laurels albeit invisible; such humbling a character he is, he might even appear ordinary. Although, a professional profile of him may read; “Entrepreneur, human capital development specialist, and youth empowerment enthusiast” (and that may not be a wrong characterization), an unpacking of his unlikely journey to self and impact reveals a world of experience that can only be told by himself. John has a been an unrelenting volunteer of JA Ghana and has cemented a legacy for himself as a youth champion whose uplifting words have redirected the lives of thousands of young people across the continent towards a pursuit of purpose, and impact. John Appiah joined JA Ghana’s Program Manager Abeiku Greene, on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 for a very anticipated conversation on the theme, “Preparing for the World of Work: Life After School” as part of an initiative of the Global Young Leaders Alliance Ghana (an offshoot of Aidulink, a program of JA Ghana’s partner Aiducation International, headquartered in Switzerland) 

Becoming a Professional.

John Appiah recalls his national service experience as “the beginning of his career” in reference to the revelations the experience of teaching in a school gave him about his previously unidentified passion for inspiring young people. After a short stint as a customer service manager at an IT firm, he pursued a Master’s Degree in Communications. That would begin a decade’s experience as a media and communications professional; from Joy FM as the Producer of the Super Morning Show, the British High Commission in Ghana, as a Communications Officer, a Marketing Manager for Invest in Africa, and a TV presenter on TV3 before venturing into entrepreneurship as the CEO of A-League consult, a human capital development firm he still runs. He then pursued his passion for young people by establishing a non-profit focused on youth development, The African Chamber for Youth Development before taking over the responsibility of managing Koforidua Clinic, a Medical Centre that his father, of blessed memory, started as far back as 1981.

Notwithstanding the success that John has achieved, he reckons that was not the trajectory that he envisaged his career life would take. Born into a family of doctors, he had always seen himself graduating into the shoes of his father as a medical professional. 

“I’m saying this to let young people know that even at this stage if you’re not too sure what you would want to do with your life, it is okay.”

From his perspective, he believes that career paths are non-linear, and can have several winding forms, but his advice to young people is to earnestly pursue all opportunities they are given because those platforms, although unrelated would be critical in moulding you into the person you eventually want to be. 

Education beyond the Classroom

John Appiah studied General Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Elective Mathematics) in High School, yet majored in Sociology and Political Science in the University, and would end up working in fields with no particular correlation to those in which he had studied. 

He remarks that undergraduate education is aimed at training oneself towards further learning (and work) in multiple fields with possibilities beyond the course one studied. Yet, he observed many young people seem fixated in the walls of their courses even when other excellent opportunities present themselves. It is, therefore, possible to see an Engineering major become business leaders and Sociology major head Telecommunication companies. 

Before the World of Work 

Contributing to the already popular conversation of the dichotomy between the world of school and work, John believes that young people have to unlearn some toxic narratives they hold about their university degrees or other tertiary qualifications. 

  • A degree is not a passport to secured employment: 

While many students may believe that their role as students is to get excellent grades in school, after which they deserve a job, with hopes of buying cars and living in luxury apartments, the present reality of the world is different. University degrees are more common than they have ever been, and a heightened sense of entitlement to a job after university would just be foolhardy. 

  • Job-search is not easy (and more difficult than you think)                                 

A World Bank report in 2018 accounted that over 110,000 people graduated from tertiary institutions across Ghana, all these individuals, eligible for employment in an economy with significantly fewer job opportunities. The job-search has never been more competitive especially in a global landscape where talent is sourced across borders. Job-seekers should, therefore, approach the process with their best foot forward. 

  • Academic Excellence is Not Enough 

With such competitiveness that has defined the world of work, a first-class degree (or sheer academic brilliance) is also not enough. Employers now look for other important qualities that compliment grades, and students who may not have some holistic profiles, irrespective of excellent grades, may not get the jobs they seek. 

John Appiah established that an awareness of these core truths of about the dynamism of the modern job search and world of work would help students discard an entitled mentality that does harm to their employment prospects. 

Before National Service 

John shared some insightful suggestions on what students waiting to commence their mandatory year of national service could do to increase their job prospects. 

  • Focus on Self-Development

The status quo education does little to improve one’s personal development as courses are based more on academic rhetoric than individual growth. Most students, thus, find themselves fixated on theory and regurgitation of facts to the detriment of other valuable lessons.  Time management, building your self-confidence, master the art of public speaking, PowerPoint presentation, build the right mindset and career options and opportunities available to you. 

  • Attend Seminars and Workshops 

In the age of Covid-19, young people have the advantage to attend conferences, seminars and workshops online and mostly for free. The opportunity that exists here is to search and attend those conferences that speak to the skills you lack and use the period before national service begins to add to your knowledge and improve your self. Alternatively, you can read the book, watch videos on YouTube or access content from other media platforms that can help you in your journey towards continued self-growth and improvement. 

  • Be Resourceful at home 

News graduates may wrongly interpret university education as an elevation from house chores and responsibilities. However, John encouraged young graduates to embrace the honour of serving their parents and use their education to foster progressive change in their small businesses. 

During National Service

  • Be prepared to Give Your Best 

Public opinion about national service placements would have one think that there are better places to work. John disagrees. His perspective is that irrespective of location or organization, the priority of the personnel should be to give the best possible service. This not only presents you as a diligent employee but also builds in the excellent work ethic that employers do desire. 

  • Learn as much as you can 

As a lifelong learner, John implored new entrants to the workplace to see themselves in a new arena of learning. Education does not end in the classroom, and the workplace, especially for people placed in environments where their precious learnings do not apply, is an opportunity to learn new skill sets, approaches and perspective that altogether makes for a valuable human resource. 

  • Building Strong relationships

Relationships are the bedrocks of trust in any human interaction and recruiters look for people they can trust the fate of their organizations with. Identifying people who can serve as referees, reaching out to mentors, and having people of influence see and believe in your ability is a skill young people need to invest their time in. As you move up the ladder of life, you would need the hands to lift you up, and it’s wiser to refuse to put your fate in the hands of strangers. 

After National Service 

  • Learn CV and Cover Letter Writing

If you intend to be employed by another organization or company other than the one you have established, the CV becomes the holy grail of your job search process. However, your university degree may not have or prepared you to write CVs and Cover letters so you would need to make use of all the online resources available to create a stunning profession CV. 

  • Master the Art of Interviewing 

After the CV has sifted through the chaff of all initial prospects, the interview validates one’s selection. During interviews, candidates for a job opening are asked to articulate their relevance to the organization and its culture and many fail to impress because they may be unfamiliar with frameworks of a successful interview. Active job seekers should invest in learning how to ace interviews through books, blogs and other content related to the subject. 

  • Master the Art of Job Search 

Job search in the competitive landscape of the 21st Century world of work has evolved. Job listings have moved from newspapers to LinkedIn. Recruitment processes have been submerged in modern technologies and talent search is more diversified. Increasing one’s chance at employment means keeping up to date the changes in the modern world, setting up a professional LinkedIn account, and dropping cold emails. 

  • Mine your relationships 

In the line of your duty, you would meet people who demonstrate themselves to be valuable connections to have. As a prospective job seeker, these are gold mines you should chase consciously. Beyond taking their contacts, be useful to them, and be deliberate about using them to get your next opportunity. 

The hour and a half conversation delved into some crucial elements of job search, self-development, lifelong learning, building networks and achieving professional success. For full access to the conversation visit JA Ghana’s Facebook page.