No Image Available

Naysan Firoozmand

Read more from Naysan Firoozmand

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Is your business training its graduates out the door?


Naysan Firoozmand gives a few pointers on how businesses can hang onto their young talent.

Graduate recruitment has – at least for the graduates – been a difficult area in recent years, but there are signs that optimism is increasing, with The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) has recently predicting a 10% rise in graduate opportunities this year. However, difficulties for young graduates are perhaps changing as much as they are diminishing. The increase in school-leaver recruitment (as rises in tuition fees lead some capable young people to question the benefit of higher education) has been identified as a threat to universities by Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of Reading University, while CIPD research has identified the UK as one of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries with the lowest percentages of jobs requiring more than primary educational achievement.

But there are lingering problems in graduate recruitment for companies too. While increasing effort is taken in selecting the most appropriate graduate candidates for in-house training programmes, many move on once their training period is over. This issue remains, despite increased investment (in terms of finance, time and intellectual capital) in the initial recruitment phase. A scattergun approach – often described as ‘spray and pray’ – is increasingly being abandoned in favour of more targeted tactics; on-campus assessment centres, internships for second-year students, scholarships, on-campus ‘brand advocates’ and sponsoring social and leisure activities. Some companies are also increasingly targeting specific campuses. Concentrated efforts are undoubtedly being made, but the efficacy of investments must be measured by both short and long-term returns and it seems the latter are often still debatable. Like any talent strategy, graduate recruitment and training must do more than persuade the best candidates to apply and to accept offers: it must also retain and develop their talents over the longer course if the further investment in training is not to be wasted.

Companies that are wondering ‘how do we make them stay?’ should really ask themselves: ‘Why would they want to stay?’ and part of the answer can be addressed at recruitment stage. While those who have yet to finish their university finals might not yet have definitive ambitions, providing clearly mapped career path opportunities and transparency about possible outcomes of graduate training can help those with the best fit to your longer-term aims self-select.

"One key to success is to ensure graduates’ and managers’ mutual expectations are well aligned: the new generation for example, have been raised in the era of the portfolio career and may see ‘moving on’ as entirely natural."

Faced with a highly competitive labour market, students may be less discerning about which organisation they join, especially if they are promised chances to be developed – and thereby made more marketable. The key is to help them see the longer-term option that you have to offer, which may mean undertaking some forward planning on their behalf. Taking a broader approach to candidate selection and assessment than academic achievement or skills profiles may also be helpful. In fact, Patrick Phelan, managing director of Aquaterra Energy, recently spoke about how the company is increasingly adopting 'a more holistic approach to candidate assessment, taking into account character and personality attributes, as well as personal interests and passion for engineering.'

Multiple career paths will also trump narrower options: unformed talents may develop in several directions, and organisations that present only narrow or closely defined career ladders might find that some of those on the first and second rungs decide not to climb any further.

But if securing a position may seem like a personal triumph for many of the freshly graduated, there can also come a time – sometimes fairly swiftly – where any sense of triumph wears off. Any graduate intake position represents Square One in the individual’s working life, and the location, nature and desirability of Square Two will soon come under scrutiny. Whether they ultimately decide whether Square Two is located within or beyond your organisation’s borders inevitably depends greatly on their experience during their time in Square One.

As well as any formal training programme that may be provided (and even here, its relevance to both the graduate and the organisation should be as clearly described and communicated as possible), the working environment and the relationship with the line manager are crucial. If line managers are the single most significant component in performance management, learning transfer and personal development, the same is also true of employee engagement. A line manager who takes the time and effort to develop an understanding of the strengths, development areas and motivators of each emerging graduate can make a telling impact in all four areas, thereby driving up a fifth: talent retention.

Line managers are also vital for the majority of learning – the 70% that takes place informally ‘on the job’ – and for providing the environment and opportunities that enable new learning to be put into practice and turned into effective long-term habitual behaviours. Their skills in coaching, mentoring and providing constructive feedback to motivate ongoing engagement and a desire to improve and progress are similarly vital, both to the organisation and the graduate employee.

Line managers are also the single most important influence in what will, for most graduates, be their first experience of the working world. New graduates arrive willing but unformed, and their line managers help to mould them into what they might subsequently become. One key to success is to ensure graduates’ and managers’ mutual expectations are well aligned: the new generation for example, have been raised in the era of the portfolio career and may see ‘moving on’ as entirely natural. They may have a greater expectation of informal, cordial manager-worker relationships than managers envisage, and optimistic views about how rapidly they might progress, and these differences are partly generational and partly a result of different levels and types of experience. Again, managers’ skills in managing relationships (and expectations) are prioritised. If organisations investing in graduate training are committed to seeing a long-term return on this investment, I’d strongly suggest reviewing how much of their current investment is directed towards enabling line managers to perform the critical role that they play in both the short and the longer-term.

Naysan Firoozmand is managing consultant and chartered occupational psychologist at ASK Europe


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!