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Human Resources For Life

Posted on 2020-05-04 09:00:00

Dennis Tan, Head of Human Capital for Great Eastern Malaysia, talks about talent hiring and movement in the life insurance industry.

The process of hiring talent has evolved in the past decade with millennials and soon Gen-Z entering the workforce. Dennis Tan, Head of Human Capital for Great Eastern Malaysia, recalls that in the early days of his role in HR, the hiring process was quite rigid. Back then, banks and insurance companies focused on hiring a pool of fresh graduates every year, with the intention of grooming and training them in preparation for a long-term career in the organisation. Less focus was given to mid-level hiring with the exception of certain senior or specialist roles.

Today, the reverse is true. Because fresh graduates tend to ‘job hop’, most companies are hiring fewer fresh graduates, focusing instead on recruiting more experienced mid- and senior-level talent based on need.

“This has of course contributed to unemployment amongst fresh graduates and reduced the opportunities for their growth and development in this industry,” says Tan.

Great Eastern attempts to strike a balance between hiring mid-level talent and fresh graduates through its Management Associate (MA) programme, where a pool of graduates are put on a 24-month rotation programme within the different divisions in the group, including a three-month stint with the Financial Sector Talent Enrichment Programme (FSTEP) to gain exposure.

“The MA programme is one way we try to nurture and develop young talent. We provide a holistic opportunity for fresh graduates to learn and grow with us so that they can fast-track their career and achieve greater milestones within a shorter period of time,” explains Tan.

Tan himself began his career in the operations division of OCBC Bank. In 1994, he accepted an opportunity offered to him to move into the Human Resources (HR) division within the bank itself. Although he found himself in new territory, Tan took up the challenge and soon realised that HR suited him – he enjoyed the interactions with people, relationship building, and the opportunity to nurture talent, which formed an integral part of his portfolio.

“But at the end of the day, be yourself; don’t try to fake what you are not.”

“I’d like to think that while I didn’t actually choose HR, it somehow chose me. And before I knew it, I had been in the field for over 20 years! As they say, time flies when you are having fun,” he says.

In 2014, Tan was offered his present role in Great Eastern, which is part of the same group of companies as OCBC Bank through the group’s Internal Job Posting (IJP) mechanism. The group of companies, which include Great Eastern and OCBC Bank in Malaysia as well as Singapore, prides itself on its internal mobility. In fact, 25 percent of talent hired last year in Great Eastern was a result of its IJP, where the HR department acts as facilitator and coordinator between the receiving and releasing managers.

“At the end of the day, we do our best to act in the best interest of the staff and ensure that the offer goes through. The releasing manager or current boss has eight weeks to let the staff go to assume his or her new role, and they cannot stop this process. Internal mobility is a key practice for us, especially for Gen Y talents who are constantly seeking new learning experiences. Keeping good talent moving within the Group is more desirable than losing them to competitors.” explains Tan.

This could explain why Great Eastern has a very low attrition rate, at about 9.3 percent in 2019 for the life insurance industry, compared to the industry standard of about 12 to 15 percent. The company has also been named ‘Best Companies to Work For in Asia (Malaysia edition)’ by HR Asia, from 2016-2019.

Great Eastern also actively promotes its internship programme, which accepted between 80 to 100 interns in 2019. This is the company’s way to not only help future graduates learn about the company and the industry, but also to enable them to gain access to the raw talent pool in the field.

“At Great Eastern, we welcome graduates and professionals from all backgrounds, actuarial science of course being a key field in the industry for specialised functions such as Underwriting, Strategic Planning, and Actuarial. We also recently set up our Digital Transformation and Digital Affinity departments, and we are looking to hire suitably qualified talents in the digital field as this is the way moving forward.”

He believes that one of the most essential skills for employability, particularly in the insurance industry, is proficiency in English. “It’s also about personality, how you carry yourself, verbalise your thoughts, your critical thinking, and the ability to communicate,” he adds. “But at the end of the day, be yourself; don’t try to fake what you are not.”

By Hyma Haridas


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