Own Your Career Journey- An Exclusive Interview with Iris Irumva

Whether you are joining the workplace for the very first time or starting out in a new industry, this is the kind of moment that definitely marks an important step. It indicates the beginning of an ongoing process that will happen throughout your life- your career journey.

However, on every path, there might be some factors beyond our control that can slow us down- global pandemic, technological changes, economic crises, just to name a few. 

So, how can we embark successfully on that journey despite unexpected events?

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CHANCEN had an exclusive interview with Iris Irumva, The Managing Director at ITM Africa- Rwanda, a pan African HR Consultancy company. As an expert in the human resource management sector and leader with many years of experience, Iris shed some light on how you can own your career journey.

What is the right time to start planning your career journey and why?

Career evolves and changes with time, but the sooner we start preparing it, the better. One can even start while at high school, but joining the university will help you to see a wide range of areas you can focus on in your career. Not only preparing your career early on shapes your future, but it gives you clarity and helps you to focus on what you want to become.

What are the steps we can use to develop a career plan?

As a student or graduate, you need first to focus on having a self- development plan before a career plan. The self- development plan will not definitely be focused on first landing the dream career job or getting high remuneration but rather getting the experience. This includes professional training and internships which eventually will help you build your CV.

Another important thing is to be passionate about developing your own ideas and solutions. If you look at the way things were done before, the traditional way of growing a career would be simply getting a job at a given company but right now the career plan could include as well self- employment.

With the current worldwide outbreak, some industry has been greatly affected namely the tourism industry. What would you tell someone whose career plan has been affected?

The  COVID has really affected everyone from Governments,  the public sector to the private sector;  companies that wanted to hire, no longer have the capacity, unemployed people who were eventually hoping to get jobs have seen their dreams shattered because of the outbreak.

We need to set in our minds that change is the only constant in life and it is inevitable. How can we adjust our plans when changes occur? I recommend using the RESET formula to adjust the plans.

Reflect: Understand the situation you are in and how it is affecting you and your plan.

Evaluate: the next step is doing an evaluation of what can work and what is not going to work in the new concept.

Simplify: You need to simplify the process once you know what you want to do. Most of us when we are putting together a plan, want to do complicated things. Start simple with what you have.

Establish your plan: Maybe your plan could be shifting your focus from the tourism industry to another industry like customer care. You need to be more open and willing to shift gears. 

Time bond: Give yourself a deadline.  For example, You could say as a student that during this month, I am assigning myself to submit 2 to 4 internship applications, I am going to subscribe to this free training online. You need to give yourself a sort of deadline.

Once you have done your RESET, it is important to reevaluate the plan. One of the things that this pandemic is teaching us is the importance of doing constant check-ins to see if the plan set is working.  RESET is a way of refreshing yourself and getting new ideas.

Apart from the RESET strategy, you also need someone who can mentor you throughout the process, someone whose past experience can shed light on what you are currently facing.

If you could give one advice to follow regarding career planning, what would it be?

There are three things that have been a great foundation in my career. The first one is preparation. Preparation can really boost your career.

Once you are prepared, we need to grasp opportunities. Many times, there are opportunities that come our way but we feel like we are not sure of the outcome. We shouldn’t be afraid of grasping opportunities as they allow us to grow.

Lastly, don’t be average. If you are given an opportunity, go extra miles. Don’t be like everyone else, try to give your best because it will first give self-confidence because you realize you have the potential, and second, someone might notice you and give you many more opportunities.

What is CHANCEN International doing to support their students?

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Rwanda is under a strict lock down since the 14th of March to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So far the governmental measures seem to have been very successful in reducing the spread of the virus, with only 327 infections reported on May 25 [Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Centre]. However the economic impact of the crisis can be severe and the community of our students is directly affected. When Rwanda locked down and students could no longer attend school, our team immediately met virtually to decide which role we wanted to play as a student finance organization and how we could best support all our members.

Here are the five measures we undertook in the past weeks: 

1. Contact every single student

We contacted every student within the first week of lock down. We recognised that our students were in shock, their daily lives had changed suddenly and their futures seemed uncertain. The education that they had worked extremely hard for was now uncertain. Think back to the first week of lock down: do you remember the rollercoaster of emotions? Our phone calls were simple. We asked: how are you doing? And we reminded them:  we are there for you, your school is there for you and we will all get through this together. Just listening goes a long way.

Our education partners, Kepler and Davis College/Akilah Institute did an excellent job of ensuring learning could continue and quickly adapted curriculum to support all learning styles; always keeping the same level of quality, labour market relevant education. 

Currently, over the next 18 months we will not be able to financially support any new students due to a lack of financial resources. But we will walk this path with our 1,300 students, as a community we will create a Rwandan example of how a young person can access high quality education, transition into creating their own income and then through their repayment the next generation can finance their students.

We invite everybody to join us on this journey: Spread this article on Social Media, donate for our students or become members of our cooperative! As a community, we can overcome this crisis. Together, in solidarity.

2. Protect the most vulnerable

There was one sentence we kept repeating in every morning team check-in: protect the most vulnerable first. We became advocates for our students, in all conversations we asked questions like: how will we help those whose household income has diminished? How can we ensure that students don’t have to pay for internet or tech devices due to distance learning? How can we support our students who were in such remote areas that they did not even have electricity to access online learning materials? And through this a community formed around our students, together with our partners and alongside government advisory we worked towards answering these questions. Our core value, solidarity, pulsed through our community.

3. Form students mentorship groups

We developed our student support to meet the needs of this new world. Groups of 100 students were assigned to a CHANCEN team member. Each team member would accompany his/her  group to their graduation acting as a mentor. With the extremely limited budget we had we started upskilling, we surround ourselves with experts and many people gave of their time freely. Currently all team members who directly support students are undergoing intensive training with a coach to help them serve better.

4. Digitize financial literacy program

To our students, we are known as the money people. Besides investing in their education we have always pledged to teach them to become empowered, we have delivered financial literacy lessons digitally and in person to our members even before they signed their contract with us. We are putting the final touches to a digital, data friendly version of the famous Savings Game. Clement, our Repayment Manager and Audresse, our Operations Manager, were both trained by the Sparkasse Stiftung last year to deliver this highly effective, simulative game that teaches individuals the basic value of money. Previously we always did this workshop in person, watch this space for the online version. 

5. Facilitate job market entry

Finally, we immediately knew that the world of work would change drastically. By the end of 2020, about 400 CHANCEN members will graduate and enter a whole new phase in their lives. This is one of the biggest, scariest moments in a young person’s life. CHANCEN, Davis College/Akilah Institute and Kepler know that the support they had previously provided their graduates with this big step would need to evolve and change. And the fact of the matter is that we don’t know exactly how. But there are a couple of things we do know. An internship is vital to gaining first experience, how do we now work with the private sector to ensure they make this opportunity possible despite a looming recession? The private sector also needs to evolve. Kepler has started an incredible program that supports SME’s in adapting to managing teams remotely and keeping teams motivated.