The first few months of any graduate programme from September to December are busy. From induction to line manager briefings, the first placements and inevitable first bouncers working out they are in the wrong place. January is often the first chance to come up for air and do some thinking about the year ahead. The programme structure, budget and core topics will most likely have been set for some time, but there are a few key questions I’d encourage all graduate developers to ask as we all plan and prepare for 2018:
• Has the business environment, leadership, strategy or values changed in the last year? If yes, does that mean you need to develop new skills in your graduates?
• Are there any common themes in the graduate or line manager feedback that you need to respond to?
• Has any new research been released (about your sector or graduate development/retention more generally) that you want to pick up on? What’s on your business stakeholder’s minds?
• Are you noticing any emerging development needs by intake year that you need to address?
• What micro or marginal improvements can you make across the board? They will all add up to another big step forward across the year.
• Are there any ‘hot’ or emergent topics in the business or sector that you are keen to experiment with? (I always liked to have one wildcard development topic to work on each year).
• What longitudinal trends can you see around retention and are there any common reasons for leaving in exit interviews and surveys? If so, how can you address them?
• How can you demonstrate ROI of development activity to your business (beyond the happy sheet)?
• Are graduates from previous intakes meeting the objectives of the programme (i.e. becoming a senior manager within 5-8 years)? If not, why not? And what might you need to change across both recruitment and development?
Each of these questions in isolation can lead you to some really interesting thinking and activity for the forthcoming year. So, unless you are in the rare and delightful position of having oodles of time, resource and budget at your disposal (!), you are more than likely going to need to prioritise. To help shortcut that process it can often be helpful to know what everyone else is up to. So, based on our work across the sector, here are my top predictions for what graduate developers are going to be working on in 2018:
1. Line manager development
This is top of the list everywhere I go. The expectations of graduates are changing - and fast. The traditional expectations of working hours, place of work, line management and organisational culture are where we are seeing some of the biggest differences between existing managers and new graduate expectations. As graduate retention rates continue to drop amongst ISE members, line managers have been identified as a key area of investment. The most common topics we know people are training managers on this year are coaching and feedback, diversity/inclusivity and mental health.
I am delighted that the ‘graduates lack resilience’ or ‘snowflake generation’ narrative, which has dominated student and graduate development conversation for the last few years, finally seems to be on the wain. It’s a narrative that, working with incredibly talented graduates every day, I disagree with, as does my colleague Gabi who wrote a piece on it for the Guardian. Indeed recent research on the rise of perfectionism amongst younger people seems to ring more true with my experience of an increasingly conscientious, hard-working, creative, talented and driven graduate population. There is no doubt however that this rise in perfectionism amongst young people is also running in parallel with soaring mental health difficulties such as anxiety, stress and depression. Whilst the research does not make a direct correlation between the two things, a link can easily be inferred through other research. Increasingly developers are focussing on wellbeing, mindset, self-talk/self-coaching, mental health and mindfulness to support their graduates in the work place and critically harness the optimum performance from their graduates without causing harm.
3. The future world of work
It’s fair to say that some of the true giants of the graduate world are feeling this most acutely in 2018, but I think this is a fever that is set to spread. Digitalisation, automation, robots, AI and machine learning are disrupting and fundamentally altering sectors like the law, professional services and accountancy. Thousands of jobs that have historically been undertaken by graduate trainees are set to dramatically change or simply disappear in the next ten years. My colleague Jane Clark is leading our work in this area and undertaking her Doctoral studies around graduate development and the future of work. Many of our friends, clients and colleagues in the world of graduate development are starting to look at what this means for their business. The most common topics we know people are working on include trying to identify and develop skills for the future, learning/career agility, growth mindset, managing complexity, understanding big data and what this all means for graduate retention in the future.
Whatever 2018 holds for you as a graduate developer I hope some of these questions and top three predictions ring true for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, or any that you might add. I look forward to seeing many of you at the ISE graduate development conference on 28th March 2018 – where I hope to be speaking or running a session on one of these key themes. University clients and contacts who want to know more about the fascinating area of graduate development (and how this links to employability, career development and employer engagement) might also be interested in my course ‘How do employers develop graduates’ on 6th February.