How to unlock next-generation talent in financial services


John Molanda

Head: Pan Africa Trade and
Working Capital Product
Management, Transactional
Banking, Absa Corporate and
Investment Banking


We often hear that there is a “war for talent” – particularly in emerging markets where the changing world of work has meant that the best and brightest now have the opportunity to move not only into exciting new types of work in technology-driven businesses, but also into businesses in places like the US, UK and China.

This poses an interesting dynamic for us as a bank as we seek to build on our foundation as a destination of choice for young graduates as we seek to build a diverse, innovative and winning team.

For us to achieve these ambitious goals, we need to make a deliberate and structured investment in young talent as part of our broader Human Capital strategy.

The world of banking is a competitive one and with the worlds of finance and technology becoming more closely integrated, we have to try and identify ways that we can differentiate ourselves. Absa has been recognised in a variety of forums for our approach to Human Capital. This includes winning multiple awards for our eKhaya staff ownership scheme and in January 2024, Absa was recognised as an employer of choice by the Top Employers Institute for the third year running across South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia and Botswana. This consistency is something which sets us apart.

One of the projects we are particularly proud of is our Trailblazer Learnership Programme which brings 50 young graduates into the world of Corporate and Investment Banking. As somebody who cut their teeth in banking via a graduate programme, this project resonates and does a lot of things right.

The Trailblazer learnership Programme is a 12-month learnership programme that that have selected 50 graduates from different institutions and enroll them in a formal qualification, as well as expose them to the various areas within CIB. The programme will equip the learners with both Specialised and transferable skills that will enhance their employability and career prospects.

Critically the Trailblazers programme is driven by a business need and this means that we get buy-in from all of the stakeholders. We do not have a situation where the graduates are selected by a centralised recruiter and then dropped into the laps of an unwilling team. In each case the graduate is interviewed by the line manager or department in which they are going to work.

This is such an important distinction.

Far too often we have organisations who build youth or graduate programmes but don’t give due consideration to how they will integrate with the business. The graduates are then treated as outliers and are accommodated when team members have the time to work with them.

In the Trailblazer programme, these graduates are on the floor, sitting in meetings with the team and interacting with stakeholders as senior as the Managing Directors. Not only does it help the graduates develop their own social capital within the organisation, it allows for their managers to identify talent and help nurture it – if these graduates succeed, they drive a business outcome.

Another consideration is the nature of the skills that are imparted. The participants are given exposure to multiple parts of the business including Sales, Product and Operations.  We have recognised that programmes need to include a combination of both technical and soft skills to help young people from a variety of backgrounds integrate themselves into the world of work.

This then brings us to the question of identifying the right candidates and trying to work out who is most likely to succeed. It is always interesting to take a photo of a cohort when it starts and then a comparative photo at the end – people develop at different paces as programmes develop. This is particularly true when you consider that due to the competitive nature of the job market, banks are having to expand their recruitment pools outside of traditional channels like Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Our recruitment not only tries to identify people who display a willingness to commit to the programme but will also try and match up participants from a previous cohort to support those from similar backgrounds.

If a candidate is shy and reserved or they don’t come from a “big city” background, this shouldn’t count against them – rather they should be paired up with somebody who had a similar experience and helps to grow and support them.

While there is no question that there is a war for talent, organisations can take deliberate steps to help them secure their talent pipeline in the years to come.

John Molanda

Head: Pan Africa Trade and Working Capital Product Management, Transactional Banking, Absa Corporate and Investment Banking

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