Why employers should rethink their graduate schemes

Diverse and inclusive programmes for young starters are key to developing a vibrant and dynamic workforce – and ultimately a successful business, says Dr James Burt

Credit: Ezra Bailey/Getty Images

The pandemic has had a bruising effect on the employment market. Disruption to education and a feeling of ambiguity about the future of working life has left many graduates struggling to identify fulfilling career paths. Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that 70 per cent of job losses in the previous year took place among workers under the age of 25. While knowing where to start and capitalising on apt opportunities has always been challenging, Covid and its aftermath have put a further spin on things, with 26 per cent of final year students in 2020 losing internships, and 28 per cent having graduate offers rescinded or deferred. 

While graduate schemes have been a great way for starters to get a foot in the door, they have often been accused of being too generalist. Often, individuals are not able to fully explore their range of interests and delve into diverse areas of businesses. Lately, there has been a marked decline in the number of graduate roles available, with only 28.6 per cent of graduates able to find employment straight out of university.

While all businesses prize highly skilled and motivated individuals, a key hurdle to employers attracting the right talent is often their inability to broaden out roles and provide clarity around growth opportunities. 

One of the biggest benefits of a graduate scheme is providing candidates with a veritable leg-up in the business. Being part of a graduate programme is a great way to immerse new recruits in the ethos of a business and build valuable frontline experience. The latter is a key ingredient in a successful graduate scheme, since many entrants to large companies often end up with the feeling of having been ‘put in a box’, which might lead to interest drying up. Today, cross-functional roles are in demand; flat hierarchical structures and proactively pushing starters to explore as many areas of the business as possible is a great way of drumming up interest and fostering a culture of excellence. 

Building up a solid pipeline of talent, empowering entrants with responsibility, and providing a reasonable degree of latitude to allow them to grow into roles often marks out successful graduate schemes from the rest. Diversity too is of acute importance, and often the lack of inclusive and diverse hiring practices are the reasons businesses adopt blinkered practices, hinder holistic growth and create blind spots. Graduate programmes that place a premium on maintaining a diverse and inclusive intake are often key cogs in the greater picture of developing a vibrant and dynamic workforce, and ultimately a successful business. 

I am a part of the pharmaceutical industry, and our sector has been buffeted by a deficient talent pipeline in recent times. However, through our graduate scheme at Pharmanovia, we are attempting to offer graduates and professionals looking to elevate their careers a chance to be a part of a global business and work on large-scale real-world projects. Providing entrants with the freedom to explore various divisions and be a part of diverse work streams in an agile, fast-moving and internationally focused business are key constituents of our graduate offer. The benefits of allowing new starters as much visibility of our business as possible, interacting with a multicultural employee population, and vesting them with responsibility at every stage of their tenure has allowed them to enhance their own confidence and develop a well-rounded view of the sector’s requirements and potential. 

Over the last couple of years though, recruitment patterns have changed, and organisations are actively working to upskill their employees. It is critical that diverse, intricate and fast-moving global businesses continue to broaden access to young graduates, offer attractive opportunities to develop their careers, and enhance intake schemes to ensure they are consistently drawing in a diverse blend of graduates that help propel businesses forward. 

Dr James Burt is CEO of Pharmanovia