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How to deliver an excellent graduate programme in 2020

…and give graduates what they want

09 / 06 / 2020Ashley Johnson

Key points

  • Vary the type of work graduates do
  • Keep training to a schedule
  • Use mentors effectively
  • Encourage healthy working practices
  • Don’t forget the social side

Organising graduate schemes this year will be a new challenge for all employers, regardless of the size of their business or their graduate intake – especially when it comes to providing a positive experience for graduates.

Fulfilling the expectations graduates may have about your programme is crucial for their retention, their development and for your organisation’s brand and reputation among Gen Z more widely.

Group GTI’s research arm, Trendence UK, was able to capture the views of 71,713 student and graduate respondents earlier this year – just before lockdown was put into place – and found that the following factors were most commonly considered ‘very important’ by students:

  • Interesting work – 69%
  • Good career prospects – 69%
  • Training and development – 65%
  • Good work/life balance – 60%
  • Diversity/equal opportunities – 57%

There’s no doubt that delivering on all of these expectations this year will be tricky, but it’s definitely still possible. There are basic principles that you can embed in your programme that will give graduates a positive experience, no matter the size of your organisation or whether you are onboarding new starters remotely or implementing social distancing in your workplace.

1. Vary the type of work graduates do

When delegating work, varying the types of work graduates do is key to ensuring they remain highly engaged – this is especially important when they are working from home. Encourage your line managers to mix simple, administrative tasks with more complex and strategic work when delegating tasks.

Additionally, to increase this variety, look for ways to replicate activities online that would have previously happened in office. For example, in lieu of in-person work shadowing, consider arranging for graduates to have one-to-one or conference video calls, or even screen-sharing sessions, with more senior colleagues.

2. Keep training to a schedule

If they are working remotely, it’s likely that a portion of graduates’ training and development will be self-driven. As such, it’s crucial that expectations around this self-directed training are communicated clearly – for example, what training is mandatory or optional, how long graduates should spend on each module, whether there are any necessary prerequisites, etc.

One way of setting expectations is by having a structured timetable of training and development that shows what, in the long-term, graduates will be doing and learning. This will have the additional benefit of giving new starters confidence that their graduate schemes will set them up in good stead for their future career. It will also provide a structure that should reduce the chances of overloading graduates with too much work and training at once.

3. Use mentors effectively

When working from home or while social distancing, informal ‘at-desk’ learning is unlikely to happen and, as such, mentors and buddies are more important than ever. The challenge will be in matching mentors with graduates and facilitating conversations. You may choose to arrange for regular calls between mentor and mentee to begin with and to encourage for these to continue beyond this initial stage.

Some employers have adapted their mentoring programmes in more significant ways, such as by using systems where new starters speak with multiple potential mentors in short succession over video (effectively a form of ‘speed mentoring’), or matching graduate buddies with new starters multiple weeks before they begin work, in order to ease the transition into work and to build familiarity.

4. Encourage healthy working practices

It’s likely that graduates will be setting up home-work spaces for the first time and so employers should support them in maintaining healthy practices when remote working. This might involve circulating guidance and advice on considerations such as proper ‘at-desk’ posture, limiting excessive screen time and separating ‘home’ and ‘work’ spaces. Graduates will appreciate employers being proactive when it comes to both championing wellbeing and acknowledging the challenges of new working arrangements.

5. Don’t forget the social side

Look for ways to encourage and facilitate socialising between graduates and the wider business. This may begin with arranging or encouraging virtual drinks, online quizzes or other social events over video for graduates’ teams and within the graduate cohort. Allow space for these to continue informally as the graduate scheme continues.

Your business may have put in place wellbeing programmes (such as exercise classes over Zoom or online access to mental health resources and first-aiders) or fundraising and charity initiatives – it’s easy to forget to communicate to graduates that these are open to them too.

Graduates can also be invited to join any employee networks, such as those for BAME or LGBTQ+ employees, to meet people from across the business – this can also help to demonstrate your organisation’s commitment to diversity to graduates.

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