Position: Human Resources Fellow
Company: MKopa Solar
Valerie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Tell us more about yourself, and what you studied in school.
I studied for a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources Management. As a part of the curriculum in the Kenyan education system, in your last year of high school you select courses that you’re interested in pursuing at university. Human resources was my first choice, because a career in HR gives you the opportunity to influence many aspects of the company or organisation’s decisions and strategy through the development and engagement of its human resources.
Did your thinking change as you moved through your studies? What influenced that?
During my university studies, sometimes I questioned why I chose HR. It often depended on the lectures. Somemade sense and were relevant to me, but it depended on how professors handled the lectures. Some lecturers don’t care if you’ve really learned from what they’ve said – it’s up to you to decide and make the effort to find out and learn more. I had a lecturer whose classes were interesting: He sent us out into the real world and job market, and had us interact with industry leaders we admired and who’ve had a big impact on society, to discover what they’re really doing. We’d then come back to class and discuss our interactions to explore what we’d learned. It was hands on and practical,instead of just saying what you think happens.
What are some of the gaps in university education in preparing for the workplace?
Not being prepared for what you’ll actually need. In regards to Human Resources, an example is the Employment Act that governs labour laws. This isn’t touched on in-depth in university studies, it’s only mentioned. It’s not stressed to students to know and be conversant with it, but then you go to the job market and people ask your familiarity with that. Little guidance is given on how to navigate the job market – you have to get out there and figure it out on your own. An example of this is LinkedIn Profile use – I had one for the sake of it, but didn’t realise it’s importance and all the ways it can really help you navigate your way to opportunities until I was out of studies. Having concrete support like that during university would have been helpful.
What were some of the challenges for you entering the job market for the first time?
The importance of networking, and how to do it. It’s still a challenge for me! It should be added to curriculums, or at least emphasised somehow to up coming graduates. Other things as well, including the importance of side searches, how to go about job applications, and what jobhunt sites to use. I look at my own experience, coming fresh out of school: you send so many applications, some sites you apply and don’t get a response; you want to give up. Or you go for an interview and on’t receive feedback on why you weren’t selected, and what you can do to improve chances in the future. This can be discouraging.
Tell us about the journey to your current position.
Last December, I saw an opportunity advertised on LinkedIn by Shortlist for the MKopa fellowship position. I knew about MKopa and some of their products, I’ve seen the impact of their products on some members from my own community and thought this could be a good opportunity to become involved. I applied and a week later got a call from Eric at Shortlist. We talked about the considerations of career growth versus salary…my thoughts on prioritizing career growth: Millennials, we want things fast. We want money, fast. But if you stay in a job for the money instead of taking the chance on something new, my own level of knowledge remains the same, what I know and the limits of what I can do remains the same. The only thing that changes is how I can spend. But that is a short term thought process. I looked at this in a long term view: if I manage to grow career wise, the financial aspect will come and I’ll have achieved two things at once. I knew that there’s much I can do, I’d been in a box and it’s not how I wanted my career to be. So I accepted the fellowship with MKopa and so far, it’s been a mindblowing experience. I’m able to do things! I can just go for it, without worrying about whether to take action or not speak up because it wasn’t asked or part of the job description. I have the autonomy I was looking for.
Tell us about your position in MKopa. What do you find most interesting, and what do you find most challenging?
From the first day, it shifted. It was a big change for me, it’s a challenge. This is what I’ll have to deal with – things change fast. I was used to things going slow. Here, you hit the ground running, have to move and take on the responsibility. I had thought this would be like past internships:just printing papers,or helping here and there. But that was not the case! In Shared Services operations some of my responsibilities include global mobility management, employee wellness and engagement, medical administration, staff exiting and clearance. For employment wellness and engagement, I coordinate things like the Zumba and yoga courses, blood donation drives, wellness talks – across all of MKopa (700 employees!).
Mkopa has Zumba classes! No way!
(Laughter) I’m happy for this – all these different aspects of HR, it was challenging for me, and brings me joy – all this being thrown at you and figuring out how to do it, and then people who see what you are doing and give you feedback, who are happy with your performance. It’s a good opportunity for me to actually show what I only thought I was capable of before. I’m not being held back-now. I work with so many different angles of HR and there’s so much room for learning: Talent, Learning and Development, Performance Management….it’s a whole new experience. Something that’s surprised me is the rate at which things change – and my ability to stay flexible and adapt. Another surprising element is the number of employees – I was used to working with 20, 30 staff at most, now it’s seven hundred! So far, I’ve not donebad. People are feeling the impact of what I’m doing, and it surprised me to see that I can do more than I thought I could. Working with MKopa has helped me increase confidence in myself. You don’t have the chance to think twice, you have to do it – so I’ve built self confidence.
What are your thoughts on the OGTI project? Did it change things for you?
It’s a great opportunity…I had this picture painted that to have your chance with a large organisation you had to have so many years of experience. Getting into a big organisation like Mkopa …I thought it couldn’t happen for at least another three years down the line. I would definitely recommend the OGTI programme as a great way to get into the energy access industry.
What are your projects moving forward this year? What will you be focusing on, and what would you like to learn more about?
With Covid-19,there’s quite a big change with working from home. The first thing Iwant to focus on is to help managers and employees with this challenge that we’re dealing with. It’s something new to me, I haven’t experienced it before. Just being prepared, managing employees expectations from the management, they’ll be looking to HR for answers supporting on that. For the next two and a half quarters of the year, as I mentioned there’s so much I need to learn from the team at MKopa – currently I’m on Shared services and operations, but I look forward to learning from Talent, L&D, Performance Management – to understand what they do, what it means to be a part of these teams. I plan to make good use of this opportunity at MKopa to learn much more.
Do you plan to stay in the energy access industry?
Definitely, yes! I didn’t think it would be this interesting, but definitely yes, I would want to stay in this industry. Given the fact that it has an impact in people’s life, it’s a fulfilling thing. Seeing someone smile because of something you’ve done, it’s something I want to stay a part of.