Many businesses assume that making a graduate scheme stand out comes down to money and benefits; if you offer a high enough salary with perks such as discounts, company car and joining bonus you can’t fail to stand out from the crowd, right? This may have been the case in the past, but the reality is that high salaries and perks are commonplace amongst many graduate schemes today, and more importantly, they aren’t always what recent graduates are looking for.
Monetary compensation is certainly important, but it’s far from being most important. What makes a scheme stand out in today’s marketplace is a genuine commitment to supporting graduates to achieve their full potential; helping them develop their skills, knowledge and passion in such a way that they feel valuable to an organisation and confident in their abilities. Fortunately, this is something every employer can afford to offer, even if they can’t afford high salaries and perks.
Make progression a real possibility
Very few people like to be in the same role for too long – especially the millennial generation who have a strong desire for mobility. However, many complete a graduate scheme and don’t know where to go next. One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd, therefore, is to have a clear progression route for graduate employees.
This is not to say that progression will be instantaneous once they complete the scheme, but at least if people know what their options are for the future they can start planning and working towards it. If you don’t offer these options, your graduates will start planning their future with someone who does.
It’s not all about leadership
Related to the issue of progression is the importance of offering routes that are not simply leadership-focused. While becoming a leader may be the long-term goal for many young employees, it won’t be for everyone, so it’s important to show that you have opportunities for them to develop in other ways. Becoming a subject-matter expert, or evolving their role into something different but related, are great ways to demonstrate there is scope for growth without the requirement to move into management.
Personalised approach to professional development
Offering a world-class professional development programme is one of the most important things an organisation can do to support its graduates. Your graduates will all require development and many organisations work extremely hard to deliver a highly innovative, engaging and impactful graduate scheme. However, they may still find they get high dropout rates.
The secret to success is to offer professional development that is tailored to the individual; while they may still have to participate in the ‘general’ graduate scheme delivered to everyone, bespoke learning and development is the best way to set yourself apart. Find out what an individual’s aspirations are, where their skills lie, where they need to develop and offer them a professional development programme that supports this.
To have a graduate scheme that stands out, don’t rely on the tried and tested approaches to learning and development. Classroom sessions can be a valuable tool in some subject areas, but wherever possible get innovative with your learning programmes.
Offer experiential approaches that will push graduates out of their comfort zone and create different learning opportunities that they will undoubtedly be talking about for years to come.
Use technology that graduates are so familiar and comfortable with that using it to learn becomes second nature.
Use social media and knowledge sharing platforms to encourage people to exchange ideas and innovate.
Find ways to encourage the graduates to take responsibility for their own progression; give them learning budgets for the year, or assign them an unfamiliar project that requires them to learn something new in order to complete it.
Focus on recognition not reward
It’s often assumed that in order to get the best performances from people, they need to be materially rewarded. However, the truth is that getting a bonus for a piece of work is actually not as effective as being recognised for that work; some believe that recognition and reward are the same thing, but this is far from the truth.
Recognition is about appreciating the hard work people put in; reward is usually linked to a one-off outcome. To make your graduate scheme stand out, host regular recognition awards, where peers, colleagues and leaders can show their appreciation for the work graduates are putting in.
There are so many other things that an organisation can do to set itself apart when it comes to graduate schemes. Key aspects include making sure it’s fit for purpose; that there are links to professional qualifications and continual development, including a blend of technical, interpersonal, leadership modules; making it challenging and relevant and delivered by experts. They may sound basic but the truth is that few companies actually deliver on these things – this should be your starting point.
Sarah Rudder is a learning and development consultant specialising in leadership and management at Thales Learning & Development with a particular interest in resilience, stress management and mental toughness and how these can be applied to the workplace to help create a happier and more efficient workforce.