What Does a Successful Graduate Programme Look Like?

What Does a Successful Graduate Programme Look Like?

A successful graduate programme. Who doesn’t want one of those?

After all, in the war for talent, we all want the fittest, happiest and most productive graduates. But how should we set them up for success in our organisations? And how do we keep them beyond the deep dive of the graduate scheme?

Depending on your experience, you’ll have your own perspective on the value of grad schemes. For sure, they’re expensive – the Annual Student Recruitment Survey 2018 tells us that on average, employers have a team of around 6 people to run the recruitment, supplemented with up to three external staff.

Anna Buttenshaw of the NGDP (National Graduate Development Programme) for the Local Government Association, explained the immensity of the annual recruitment for 150 roles to us. Applications open in September for the following year’s intake and 1000 people are invited to interview, a number that is reduced to assessment centres of 600 participants.

“We don’t have the budget that large corporates do” explains Anna, “so we have to be creative in the way we go about recruitment”.

With costs rising to £40k per grad, the high drop-off rate seen so often in graduate schemes is uncomfortable to say the least.

Estimates vary, but with 16% of graduates leaving during the programme and up to 46% leaving within 5 years of programme completion, it’s a painful cost to bear.

The Value of a Successful Graduate Programme

From the grad schemes that are simply a gentle introduction into the world of work, to those with multiple rotations, there’s no fixed definition of a graduate programme.

But the value of bringing a steady stream of raw talent into an organisation means graduate programmes can help evolve an organisation with fresh thinking and the skill transfer they encourage.

And the benefit to graduates? A cushioned entry into the world of work where your talents are nurtured, and you’re given the opportunity to establish where you belong.

A well-run grad scheme gives young people immense opportunities; “when else in your professional life do you get the chance to gain from such a wide range of experiences?” says Anna from the NGDP. “One of the major assets is being able to do 3, 4 or even 5 placements across the organisation. It gives you such a wholescale view of what you can achieve.”

The Importance of Fit in a Successful Graduate Programme

Let’s be frank. The move to the world of work can be daunting.

From a relaxed university environment to one where you’re expected to deliver and behave in a certain way, workplace culture shock is a very real thing.

The importance of fit cannot be underestimated.

“I tell the managers interviewing grads not to be too fixated on academic results”, says Shirlene Griffiths, who heads up the design and management of graduate programmes of multinational software company, Dassault Systèmes. She clarifies, saying; “they may have every element of a degree but be the wrong fit.”

The importance of fit is echoed by the approach taken by the NGDP.

Cultural cues are used at each step of the recruitment process. From a focus on highlighting the “give back” mentality needed to work in the public sector to setting online tests that require candidates to respond to genuine situations.

The climax of fit management is a round of 3-4 interviews per candidate so both candidate and manager can assess the fit that will best suit each council location and graduate. The result? Graduates who are happy in their placements and organisations who feel their grad intake will go far.

The Importance of Self-Discovery in Successful Graduate Programmes

Many graduate programmes are designed with the assumption that employees already have a level of experience and a background in the world of work. But many grads don’t have that. Even if they do, it may be as a result of a sandwich year placement or a summer holiday internship. It won’t be deep enough to be truly meaningful and useful.

A successful graduate programme helps grads develop a sense of self-awareness. You need to help them discover where they fit in the world of work and your organisation and learn how to deal with the challenges that lie before them.

This means supplying them with enough self-discovery – such as psychometrics and personal development – for them to understand what works for them and what doesn’t. So often we expect those we work with to have this self-awareness.

But with graduates, fresh out of university or just back from year’s travelling; it’s something they need to work on. Fortunately, self-discovery work tends to be enlightening, motivating and fun. It’s always filled with energy and boosts a group of people. Especially those who until this point have relied on parents and teachers to tell them their strengths. This is their chance to identify what they truly are, not what others tell them they are.

Career Planning in Successful Graduate Programme

Is career planning necessary for a successful graduate programme? We’d say so. Why else do we see so many bright young things end their scheme disappointed at the way their career doesn’t just roll out in front of them?

Incorporating career conversations into your grad scheme encourages your new recruits to be more proactive about their career management and helps them process their aspirations and expectations sooner. The earlier you can involve them, the stronger your dialogue and the closer you get to them. The result? Better retention and measurement of performance.

Career Planning also helps identify those grads for whom your grad programme isn’t quite right. Perhaps your organisation isn’t right for them. And if it’s not right for them, it won’t be right for you. Yet another cost-effective reason to start your grads thinking about managing their future within your organisation.

The Power of Early Career Conversations in Successful Graduate Programmes

It’s fair to say that increasing numbers of organisations recognise the importance of incorporating career conversations into their graduate programmes, but there’s still uncertainty about the how and the when.
So often, career planning is a bolt-on to the rest of the grad scheme.

But leaving career conversations until the graveyard shift in your workshops, when they’re twitchy about missing their train doesn’t give it the necessary focus. And leaving career planning until the end of their graduate programmes sends a message that it’s less important or tougher to think about than other parts of the scheme.

A commitment to career planning is clear at NGDP;

“There is no point agreeing what our grads want to do, six months from the end of their two-year programme, if that conversation does not start on day one.” says Anna “You will lack the organisational buy-in and support to establish those career steps and experiences which are necessary for someone to have that fast-track career agenda”

With a dedicated mentor at each location and the commitment to a full-scale career workshop 12-9 months before the end of their programme, graduates benefit hugely from these discussions about career development. Is this part of the reason for their low attrition rate?

88% of grads staying with their original council employer or staying within the public sector far exceeds the average retention rate.

Dassault Systèmes has a similar approach.

Shirlene told us “the message we give them is that ultimately it’s up to them as individuals. If they want to work on a particular area or do a particular role, they’ve got to ask. They’ve got to push.”

Graduates have ongoing access to a company-wide career-planning tool plus the support of their manager which puts career conversations centre stage from day one. And with a full day interactive workshop focused on career planning six months into their year-long programme, they’re in a more informed and empowered position to take control of their careers.

Career Planning for Your Successful Graduate Programme. An Action Plan

Incorporating career planning into your grad programme is simple and shouldn’t be complex or laborious. Using a defined step-by-step approach helps your grads identify a path for their future career that you and future line managers can review and consider.

Including Career Conversations for a Successful Graduate Programme

For a year-long graduate programme, we’d recommend the following guidelines.

★First 3 Months
Use the first three months of the programme as your opportunity to introduce the concept of personal development to your graduates. Using a ready-made structure such as the Career Equation gives you the tools to help them identify where they want to go and define what success looks like for them.

★After 6 months
As they become more familiar with the world of work, your grads will be ready to give their career plans more thought. Use the Career Equation to hone their areas of interest in more detail and start to determine the direction of travel.

★After 9-12 months
As their time within the programme draws to a close, it’s time to refine their career plans and goals within your organisation using the Career Equation structure. The resulting roadmap becomes a tool for them to follow and for you and their line manager refer to and review over time.

Programme Completion

Instead of automatically allocating a role to your grads at the end of their programme, work with them to choose a position that suits them and the rest of the organisation. Because they’ve discussed their aspirations and preferences with you and their manager over the past year, this will be a natural progression of past career conversations.

This approach incorporates self-discovery and a sense of empowerment. The result is a balance of realism and ambition for a plan that’s aligned with their interests and personalities and fits the organisation’s requirements.

The result? Happier graduates who can see a path ahead of them that fits their ambitions and who are more likely to stay in their roles for longer. Happier managers too, because as anyone who has managed a graduate will tell you – trying to fulfil a graduate’s expectations without the appropriate tools is tough.

With many thanks to Anna Buttenshaw and Shirlene Griffiths for their insights.

Are you ready to build career conversations into your graduate programme? Let us help you with our proven approach to career management – The Career Equation®. Download our career consulting brochure today and get in touch to learn more.

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