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Sola Osinoiki: From Security Guard to HR Tech Leader

November 2, 2023

In the fast-paced world of HR and HR technology, professionals often find themselves at the intersection of data, innovation, and human resources. In our interview with Mr. Sola Osinoiki, a seasoned HR Technology Consultant and an Itana Digital Resident, we explore his remarkable journey through various career phases, the evolution of the HR industry, and the significance of data-driven decision-making. Mr. Osinoiki, who transitioned from civil engineering to programming and later emerged as a prominent figure in HR technology, shares his insights and experiences in this fascinating conversation.

Could you tell us a bit about your background? 

I studied Civil Engineering at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in Nigeria. After uni, my fiance, now wife, moved to the UK, in the early days of “Japa”. I went along with her, and it turned out that there were no Civil Engineering jobs in the UK. To make ends meet, I became a self-taught programmer, and eventually secured jobs at companies like GlaxoSmithKline and a College of Law

One day, a friend implied that I might have a knack for working with people and recommended the HR industry. So, I got curious and shifted my focus to HR, starting with payroll and later getting involved in large outsourcing projects. 

I also ventured into consulting with Accenture and PricewaterhouseCoopers. After a decade in consulting, I joined a startup called Deliveroo in the UK, the, I worked for Process, the company behind MultiChoice, before becoming an independent HR Technology Consultant. 

Right now, I focus on helping companies understand and maximize their investments in HR tech. To clarify, I specialize in HR Tech, not just HR. That sums up my journey over the past 30 years.

That’s a fascinating journey, you really compressed a 30-year career into a 2-minute explanation… but before we go deeper into your career, I’m curious, what’s the difference between HR and HR tech?

In recent times, the term "HR Tech” or "People Tech" has gained traction as we move away from traditional "Human Resources". HR Tech encompasses the technology that underpins HR processes throughout the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to retirement.

Within this lifecycle, you encounter various aspects such as recruitment, benefits management, learning and development, performance appraisal, goal setting, payroll, and more. HR Tech provides technology solutions to streamline and enhance these processes. For example, instead of submitting a physical CV, you can apply for a job using your LinkedIn profile or dedicated HR software, which makes the hiring process more efficient.

I’m more focused on the technology that makes HR processes more efficient.

That makes sense. Could you walk us through your career progression?

Necessity is the mother of all hussle. When I arrived in the UK and struggled to find a job in Civil Engineering, I worked as a security guard for about 18 months. During that time, I spotted a graduate placement opportunity, applied, and made the leap into programming.

As my career progressed, my transitions became more deliberate. I moved from consulting back into the startup industry because I felt ready for a change. Apart from that initial necessity-driven transition, subsequent changes were intentional and aligned with my career goal.

You’ve had quite an intriguing journey, is there any project that was particularly challenging

One of the most challenging projects that comes to mind is a consulting project I undertook in Scotland. The client had a problem they couldn't clearly articulate, which made the project especially complex. They had engaged us to solve an issue they couldn't define. I can’t get into the details of the project now, but after our first interaction, I was able to map out the challenges they had, and charted a pathway to resolution.

We were able to do that because we employed active listening and a technique known as "mirroring" to extract insights from the client's vague descriptions. By distilling their concerns, we were also able to outline a solution that resonated with them. Despite the initial ambiguity, we delivered the project successfully within 18 months.

With over 25 years of experience, primarily in HR and HR Tech, can you share insights into how the industry has evolved during your career, from your early days to the present?

When I reflect on the evolution of HR, I think back to the early days when employee files were stored in physical cabinets within a company's premises. If you needed information about an employee, someone would have to search for their file manually.

This evolved as we started using software like Microsoft Excel to manage HR data. Eventually, we adopted Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools like Oracle and SAP. In parallel, cloud-based solutions emerged, with companies like Workday and SuccessFactors leading the way. In Nigeria, System Spec played a significant role in this evolution.

Today, we're witnessing the next phase, where AI-powered HR tools are becoming prevalent. These tools can quickly analyze CVs and resumes, searching for relevant keywords and qualifications. The industry has shifted towards data-driven decision-making and automation.

Looking at the evolution of the HR industry, what trend excites you the most, considering your extensive experience?

The most exciting trend, in my opinion, is the industry's continuous evolution. Data plays a central role in this transformation. We've progressed from physical employee files to Excel spreadsheets, then to ERP systems, and now to cloud-based HR solutions.

We're entering an era where AI-enabled HR tools are becoming prevalent. These tools can quickly scan and assess CVs, making recruitment more efficient. The evolving technology landscape keeps the industry dynamic and opens up new possibilities for improving HR processes.

Speaking of data, can you share an example of how you've utilized data in your work?

In a previous role, I worked for a defense organization specializing in building helicopters. We faced a significant challenge with a high attrition rate among our engineers. Upon analyzing data, we discovered that most of our engineers were approaching retirement age within four years, leaving a potential skills gap.

Using this data, we launched a graduate program to bring in fresh talent who could be trained over several years to fill these roles. This proactive approach helped us address a looming skills shortage and ensure the continuity of the organization's expertise.

Another notable example is Google, which used data analysis to identify issues with its maternity policy that were causing high turnover among female employees. By analyzing data, they adjusted their policy, leading to better retention of female talent.

You’ve casually mentioned some huge companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Accenture, and GlaxoSmithKline. That’s a remarkable portfolio. How have these experiences shaped your role as a Business Advisor?

Firstly, they have expanded my network significantly. Through platforms like LinkedIn, I've built connections with over 16,000 professionals. This network provides valuable insights and resources.

GlaxoSmithKlineSecondly, my diverse experiences have equipped me with a broad spectrum of knowledge. I've worked across various industries, including banking, media, manufacturing, and technology, accumulating a wealth of expertise that I can draw upon when addressing challenges as a Business Advisor.

What advice would you offer to young professionals seeking growth and success in their careers?

My advice to young professionals is in twofolds, first, embrace the journey. Be open-minded and adaptable. The world is constantly evolving, and the best way to thrive is to evolve with it. While some careers require specialized knowledge, in fields like tech, it's crucial to stay agile and willing to learn.

Secondly, seek out mentors and coaches. I owe a significant part of my success to the guidance and support of mentors who helped me navigate my career. They can provide valuable insights, help you avoid pitfalls, and accelerate your growth.

To learn more from Mr. Sola Osinoiki, you can get his book titled: The Art of Managing Up for Career Progression. In this book, he talks about how it isn’t exactly easy to navigate the nuances and challenges that comes with making career changes in a fast-paced world. He also shares more about his career progression from being a security guard, to rising to the top as the VP of Global People Technology in a multinational company. If you are looking to advance your career to an executive positions, you should read this book.

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