Graduate schemes only succeed if you work at them

Concentrating on induction and diversity in particular can make the difference between new entrants staying or flying the nest, says Darius Matusiak

Everyone likes to think the talented graduate they’ve just taken on will stay with the company for years to come – so it’s a source of immense frustration if they leave after just a few months. Sometimes, a young person will simply decide a career is not for them, but in other cases the lack of opportunities to progress and/or unclear objectives are to blame for them looking elsewhere.

As Generation Z enters the workplace, employers need to understand what motivates this cohort of young people, and emphasise it in their employee value proposition. In my experience, many look for strong career progression, diversity and flexibility at work and are, in return, willing to take on responsibility, self-teach and adapt.

A longer and more transparent induction process is one of the best ways to improve graduate retention, since it gives you time to embed the business’s DNA in them. Weekly reviews, where you look honestly at what’s gone well and what hasn’t, are extremely valuable, as is encouraging new recruits to approach line managers with any questions or problems before they escalate. There also will be times when additional soft skills training is needed, for instance in timekeeping, maintaining a professional appearance and/or phone manner.

This focus on learning and development doesn’t end once a graduate has completed their initial training, of course. We should always inspire them to reach the next level, learning from peers and senior colleagues wherever possible using buddying and mentoring schemes, so their career doesn’t plateau.

It goes without saying that a company’s approach to graduate retention depends on its employee brand proposition. At Macildowie, for instance, we highlight the opportunities to change candidates’ lives by helping them fulfil their career dreams, our commitment to CSR, flexible working and career advancement.

Our aim is to develop the next generation of managing consultants, so it’s important that our new hires learn skills such as working together to overcome problems. As employers, we should continually strive to understand why someone goes to work, what their ambitions are and how we can help achieve them.

One common reason why a graduate scheme fails to hit the mark is lack of organisational diversity. A high-performing workplace culture depends on different personalities and backgrounds, so an office full of the same types of personality can be difficult to manage, especially if they all have their sights set on becoming the next MD, for example. While hiring, it is important not to shy away from showing candidates the ‘good, bad and ugly’ aspects of a job, as you want them to go into it with their eyes open.

When trying to uncover the personality types most suited to a business, I’d urge employers to look beyond just CVs (which are normally limited among graduates anyway) and face-to-face interviews, and think about psychometric testing.

Although they have been criticised for failing to encourage diversity, when applied effectively, psychometric tests can provide significant assistance in discovering the most suitable candidates. Rather than relying on gut instinct, this type of testing helps identify the attributes you’re looking for at the start, in particular trainability, mental agility, relationship building skills, networking ability and resilience. These skills are particularly important when you consider the rate at which technology is developing. Many jobs we’re recruiting for now didn’t exist 10 or even five years ago, yet with the right training and attitude, graduates will be the ones filling these roles.

As a final point, it’s worth remembering that although strong graduates make an immense contribution to a company, success ultimately depends on the diversity of its workforce, both in terms of demographics and experience. Half of our own management team came through the graduate scheme (some as long as 20 years ago), with the other half being hired externally. In my view, it’s the most effective way of bringing in new ideas and processes, while making the business feel like a winning team.

Darius Matusiak is associate director for the HR division at Macildowie