by Rebecca Fielding
I’ve launched graduate schemes many dozens of times over the last twenty years, both in-house and more recently with clients. In this blog, the first of a three-part mini-series this Summer, I share my five top tips to set your new graduate scheme up for success.
1. Be clear on the WHY
There are a couple of typical scenarios where a business wants to launch a graduate scheme. Most frequently:
However rarely do these scenarios really clarify the ‘WHY’ behind a graduate programme. You must start by identifying the problem statements you are trying to solve (skills, ageing demographics, commercial ROI, innovation, recruitment agency costs, diversity, succession) and the measures of success. And being clear on the why doesn’t just help you to design the right programme and processes – it also ensures you get and keep all your key stakeholders crystal clear on what you are working to achieve and why.
If you want some further support with this you can check out these two resources - the Gradconsult five pillars for an early careers strategy for an early careers strategy and these great toolkits from SAGEA.
2. Understand the status quo
You may already have recent graduates, or current interns, working students and placement students across your business. If this has been done ad hoc, or through direct entry hires you are unlikely to have clear data to know what talent you already have where, where they came from and what may already be working well that you can harness. Start by collating the ‘best imperfect’ data you can (through surveys, focus groups, alumni you know of and working with HRBPs). Involving your alumni in any launch is critical not only to capture existing best practise but for lots of other reasons - more on this later in the series.
3. Avoid the big bang
It is always tempting to go to market with a ‘big bang’, an all singing and dancing campaign and market-leading development offering. But this way danger lies. You are always going to make mis-steps in the early days and the smaller the pilot group, the easier it will be to both identify and correct these mis-steps swiftly. Consider the following approaches:
The resource requirements, time and costs to run a 2-3 year graduate scheme quickly escalate, even if the number of hires remains reasonably consistent. Why is this? Here’s a quick explainer if you were launching later this year for a graduate scheme to start in September 2023. Your costs for the JUST a 2023 graduate scheme would typically spread across 2022 into 2025 as follows:
But of course in 2023 you will also start recruiting for the 2024 intake and the same again each following year until the full accumulative effect is reached. By the 2025 budget year you have the costs for four years of different graduate schemes all running simultaneously, as follows:
This means your budget by 2025 is significantly more than your first 2022 budget, and might look something like this:
Many businesses and graduate teams get caught out by the escalating costs. And if you haven't got that all important WHY and the success measures in place from the start, it can be difficult to justify such significant investment without a clear ROI when the Finance Director comes calling in 2026. So make sure you model the costs and the resource you are going to need up front, in order that you are set up for success and have clear commitments to enable you to deliver on your promises (to the business and the graduates alike).
5. Hiring/line managers are crucial
It doesn’t matter how amazing your campaign has been, how prestigious your brand is or how much development you offer. If your hiring/line managers are not good people leaders and coaches for your new graduates it will all fall down. So what can you do to set your scheme up for success? These tried and tested methods will help:
We all remember our first boss and how they shaped our view of the world of work – either for good or bad!
Look out for the next two articles in this series, coming in August. In the meantime do let me know what you would add to the top tips, or if you have any topics you would like me to address.
If you are grappling with the launch of a new scheme and fancy a more in-depth chat with someone who has ‘been there, done that’ please just pick up the phone or drop a note to Paul Siaens or I in the Gradconsult team. We’ve developed a particular specialism in the last few years for helping businesses to launch, refresh or grow their graduate schemes and we are always happy to have a chat over a brew.