FBC joins the world in commemorating World Youth Skills Day. Our Staff Reporter (SR) sat down with Prosper Matiashe (PM), the Data Analytics and Actuarial Services Manager to discuss how young people can adapt their skills amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
World Youth Skills Day
Thursday, July 15, 2021
SR: Hello Prosper, welcome to the interview and thank you for joining us.
PM: Thank you very much for affording me this opportunity. It is my pleasure to commemorate the World Youth Skills Day with our customers and stakeholders.
SR: Please share with us who you are and what you do at FBC.
PM: I am a qualified actuary by profession and I am a Fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (UK). At FBC, I lead the Data Analytics and Actuarial Services function in its mandate to support data driven decision making and facilitate business transformation through generating, availing and applying data and evidence across the FBC Group.
SR: Today we are commemorating World Youth Skills Day and this year the theme focuses on “Re-imagining Youth Skills Post Pandemic”. As the pandemic transforms work as we traditionally knew it, young people have to re-adjust their skills to suit this changing landscape. What’s your take on this issue?
PM: Humans, by nature, have to evolve and adapt to their environment in order to survive and thrive. For me, I think there are a core set of skills that one needs to identify and leverage on so as to remain relevant. I think my strength is in communicating financial and quantitative insights to non-quantitative audiences and enabling them to make correct and well-informed decisions.
Therefore, my niche is to straddle between technical and business and driving strategy through strategy. Other technical people do not necessarily invest in these skills of communication and business acumen. As businesses continue to become digital, such skills will remain relevant and that is the core that I build around. I continue to sharpen my skills especially using various digital tools that actuaries and data scientists are adopting.
Young people therefore need to continue sharpening their skills but should have core competences based on their preferences and natural strengths. I also think that leaders also then need to provide an environment that allows these young people to adapt and re-tool. They should also be able to understand and provide a platform for them to thrive accordingly.
SR: For most youths in Zimbabwe, buying and selling of imported goods is becoming ubiquitous as formal employment is becoming less of an option for many. Is this sustainable, given the long term need for production related skills such as agriculture, engineering and other crucial vocational skills?
PM: From what I have observed, trading is at the core but it is being done within the disciplines you have mentioned like agriculture. There is a thriving agriculture community for youths. You can see it on Twitter how we have leaders like The Prince Machiavelli who are inspiring youths to go into farming. I follow a number of youths who are also very active in construction, energy etc. and what they are doing is very inspirational.
My view is that youths should now view training in agriculture, engineering, vocational skills as a bridge to start their own enterprises and also employ other people. So the foundational knowledge remains important but ultimately we then have to sell whatever we are producing using our skills. Importation of goods is because we are not producing locally and I think as youths produce more, we will have more domestic trading.
I sincerely hope that government and companies, provide that space and environment to allow the youths to pursue growth in whatever discipline they choose and if it is trading, then allow them to have stalls at markets to trade with ease.
SR: Most young people in schools and colleges have had their education/training affected by the pandemic and a great number of these youths cannot afford to rely on the internet due to high internet/data costs. How best can some of these affected youths improve their education and /or up skill themselves?
PM: I come from rural Chimanimani and I travel there to see my parents and business ventures frequently. I have great concern that most rural youths are being left behind because they don’t have digital tools to continue with education or training. When I talk to them, I realize they are losing hope. I faced the same situation in 2008 when there was virtually no education. We didn’t even know if we were going to write our O’ Level Exams. Being near to Chiadzwa diamond fields, the default option for many young people was always to join the diamond rush. Many of my friends never recovered from the loss of hope during that time.
Therefore, I think the first thing is to have hope and faith that normalcy will come and I will go back to school or continue with my training. That is the biggest win for every student or young person out there. In the same manner, it is therefore important to look for cheaper and readily available options in the communities. Resources allowing, students can continue reading novels, books or any kind of literature they find. They should keep talking to the role models in their communities for insights and wisdom.
However, I think it is imperative for successful people from communities to give back and create platforms for the students to continue with education. For example, one person can donate a few computers, one buys internet equipment and another one buys internet data for the year. That way, you create the appropriate platform.
SR: You seem to have achieved professional success at an early age. What did you do differently?
PM: For me, it has been pure endurance and desire to achieve and break records and barriers. Coming from a very remote and poor village, I realised early that I could use my intelligence to change my community and be a guiding light for the kids from that village. Therefore, I always do more and fight the stereotypes that people have about rural areas. I have one vivid memory. A classmate, back in Form one, asked me what a microwave was. I had no clue at all and the whole class laughed at me saying it was a sign that people from rural areas were dull and lacked exposure. It made me develop that inner anger and resolve that I was going to prove that I may have come from rural areas but I am not dull and I am actually smarter than most people in the room.
I urge young people to read the book Outliers by Malcomm Gladwell. He talks about how great people spent at least 10,000 hours refining their craft or skill. I think I probably have spent those hours doing maths and actuarial work. I used to practise like a machine for exams and when the exams came, it was like the knowledge came naturally to me.
Tenacity and inner resolve transform into hard work and results come along the way. I have been lucky to have parents and other relatives who believed in me and supported me all the way and my spouse is also very supportive. I also deliberately look for wisdom from people who have already achieved and are experienced in the profession.
It makes a difference to find a Sponsor at your place of work. This person champions and markets the work that you do and also mentors you for growth. However, for you to have a sponsor, you have to win their trust and solve business problems that they have. Most young professionals cannot identify their sponsor at work and I believe this stifles their professional growth. It is important to volunteer and participate in the key initiatives that the company is doing. That enables executives to identify you and be impressed by your work. With time, you win their trust and they also groom you accordingly.
Above all, deliver value for your employer.
SR: There’s often pressure on young people to have figured out their life’s purpose very early and be excelling shortly thereafter. Can everyone be an early bloomer? Talk us through your thoughts.
PM: I think that is not possible. In our actuarial profession, we used to sit for 15 exams. Some students would pass the first 8 very fast and then struggle with the rest. Some start poorly but excel for the upper level exams. That is a testament that our routes to the top are not the same. Sometimes one can be unfortunate to work under a boss who is not a sponsor or mentor or has self-actualised. Sometimes, the economy or family set up works against you.
However, the key is to make sure you remain clear on the end game. Sometimes, you have to move on and go to another company and start afresh. Sometimes you have to change your profession or qualification. Sometimes, it is moving out of the country. As you review your progress, you pick opportunities to improve and achieve your goal.
I also think sometimes God has a plan for you. I always do my best and then God takes care of the rest.
SR: In closing, what’s been the best advice you’ve received as a young professional?
PM: When I was doing my industrial attachment at Zimnat Life, a senior colleague told me that “Prosper you are very intelligent but if ever you fail, always know that failure is normal and ensure you recover and fight again”. It has had a big impact on me. I once failed one professional exam called SP1 and I was ready to accept failure. I rewrote the exam and actually passed it very well. I ended up only failing an exam once but I feel I was ready when it occurred and dealt with the failure well. I am a pure perfectionist in my work and business but I have a good way of dealing with failure now.
It is this advice that I give all intelligent youths out there. One day, the devil will knock on your door step but it is part of life and failure is normal.
SR: Thank you very much for giving us your time and the insightful words shared.
PM: It is my pleasure and I wish all youths a very enjoyable journey in their own work.