Investing in graduates and making them ‘business fit’

Darren Birt, Operations Director, FHL Cloud Solutions,  discusses how to successfully recruit, onboard and retain graduate talent

Many organisations recognise the advantages of recruiting graduates, some of whom are fresh out of University. In fact, figures suggest that 2018 will see a substantial increase in graduate recruitment, with the Institute of Student Employers predicting an 11 per cent rise in graduate recruitment among its members. This compares to just a one per cent rise in 2017. However, recruiting more graduates doesn’t mean that they will remain with the hiring companies beyond the probationary period. In fact, it’s all too common for graduates to leave during or soon after the onboarding process, highlighting serious flaws in many graduate recruitment programmes. So, what are the secrets to successfully onboarding graduates? How do you make them ‘business fit’ and how can you encourage them to remain with the company for the long-term?

Tailor your onboarding programme

Firstly, it’s important to recognise what the company is gaining by recruiting a graduate. The years of experience will not be there, but graduates tend to be enthusiastic to learn and bring fresh perspectives, the latest skills and new ideas. They can also be more easily moulded to the business culture. This needs to be borne in mind from the outset, tailoring the onboarding process accordingly. After all, if the onboarding programme is identical for every new recruit regardless of whether they’re a graduate or a business veteran, it will be falling short and could quickly lead to frustration and disengagement.

Ensure the graduates have a thorough syllabus covering the first few weeks and if possible, the first few months. It needs to include one-to-one mentoring, onsite training courses and, when relevant, industry training programmes to get them up-to-speed as quickly as possible. Graduates cannot be left ‘to get on with it’ until they have gained the confidence, knowledge and ‘know how’ of both the business and the industry and so significant time from managers and colleagues must be invested into achieving this. However, it must also be made clear to graduates that their success is part of a two-way process. They, too, need to put considerable time and effort into gaining the experience and skills needed to be successful.

 Addressing the ‘employability gap’

A growing issue when taking on graduates is their lack of business etiquette and ‘life skills’, creating an ‘employability gap’ that makes it hard for graduates to quickly and easily adapt to a business environment.

‘Life skills’ and etiquette can encapsulate any number of attributes which many businesses would categorise as ‘common sense’, such as how to hold a face-to-face conversation and acceptable behaviour when dealing with customers. However, increasingly, graduates are leaving University devoid of these skills. Whether the blame can be placed on the rise of social media, fewer teenagers having part-time jobs or the increase in students living with their parents, it appears that graduates are less prepared for entering the business world than they were 10-15 years’ ago.

So what can be done about it? The answer is that businesses must build etiquette and life skills into their graduate onboarding programmes. The introduction of ‘life and business etiquette’ courses together with communication and team building workshops will help to address the ‘employability gap’. However, it’s also important for organisations to consider partnering with Universities to ensure that graduates are ‘fit for business’ before graduating, perhaps by working with Universities to build suitable ‘business etiquette’ modules into their syllabuses. The growing number of graduates leaving University who are lacking basic life skills is indeed worrying, but this issue must be tackled head-on now before the ‘employability gap’ gets any wider.

Creating a ‘sticky’ culture

Finally, businesses need to make their culture as ‘graduate friendly’ and ‘sticky’ as possible in order to retain graduates for the long-term. Consider the following ways to create an engaging and attractive workplace culture:

  • Provide ongoing learning and development opportunities.
  • Encourage and organise regular social gatherings so that recruits see the company as an enjoyable place to work.
  • Appreciation is a powerful engagement and motivation tool and so regularly recognise and reward staff for a job well done.
  • Make workplace wellbeing a top priority so that staff feel as though the company is looking after their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

The benefits of recruiting graduates by far outweigh the risks but it’s key to invest heavily in every single graduate to achieve success. By doing so, they’ll soon be paying for themselves in terms of the work they deliver, the passion they bring and the ideas they generate.