TTT – Modernising our Emerging Talent Programmes

Graduates Emerging TalentThe world of work has changed and the appetite for spending long periods of time employed by the same company simply isn’t there. So what does this mean for our talent programmes? This shift in behaviour throws up a number of questions, particularly when we consider talent programmes designed for graduates, interns, apprentices and entry level members of staff. For instance, what’s a reasonable length of time to spend on a talent programme? Is it really necessary to include leadership development material in this type of programme if these individuals aren’t ‘sticking’ around that long?

What’s clear is there’s a need for businesses to respond to these changes in a way that will continue to funnel quality employees into suitable positions to help meet business objectives.

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Talent Think Tank (TTT) held on Thursday 1st June 2017 hosted by Cancer Research, titled ‘Modernising our Emerging Talent Programmes’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Talent professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Setting the scene

Having partnered with Cancer Research UK on a number of occasions, I was particularly excited to hear what they had to say on this topic. CRUK is an organisation that straddles the corporate and charity worlds and has a workforce of which 25% fall into the early careers category. From my own experiences with the CRUK HR and Recruitment & Resourcing teams, I know they have slick processes, a solid structure that works well and comes best in class – naturally I was curious and excited to hear what they had to share about managing emerging talent and their early careers population.

At present there are a number of different and exciting routes you can explore as emerging talent with CRUK. Some of their most niche and exclusive roles are filled with graduates and apprenticeships.  During and before the selection process CRUK identify the areas of the business that are particularly challenging to recruit for and seek to train and develop employees into those hard to fill roles creating their own home grown experts.

Testing the waters

For many organisations, retaining staff following a graduate scheme poses a challenge. It was discussed that when applicants apply to graduate schemes, they are not sure what they want to do long term and tend to find the rotation element of the programme appealing as it allows them to ‘try before you buy’.

It seems a lot of graduates go into these schemes to use them as a ‘test bed’. They do not have the intention of committing to several years with an organisation and are no longer looking for that antiquated classic ‘leadership path’. Rather they are exploring what they enjoy doing from a professional point of view, with the next step of developing in this area and becoming a subject matter expert. Furthermore, it seems that once an individual pinpoints an area of focus, they then want to explore it in a couple of different environments and contexts i.e. other organisations to gain a depth of experience. It appears leadership is often a distant thought, if at all.

Creating an ‘experience’

The example of how one particular retailer manages their transient population of employees arose. This retailer openly acknowledges and embraces the fact that their employees may not see their roles as jobs for life, or even more than 12-18 months. What was inspiring about their approach, is that they focus on getting the best out of their employees in the here and now – they have a conversation along the lines of ‘we know this is a stepping stone for you to reach other goals in your life, so let’s talk about how both you and the business can get the maximum value out of your time as an employee here’. It is drummed into them that it is about getting the best value out of the situation, and this encourages an open and honest dialogue. Surely these are management and HR goals?

Building capability through the Apprenticeship Levy

The Apprenticeship Levy was also a hot topic with its recent introduction in April of this year. The mood was positive, and curious, as we discussed the Levy. It was agreed that the Levy has been well received and it was interesting to hear how different businesses are already using, or thinking about using, the extra resource. It was suggested that it would be a great solution for particularly tricky roles to recruit – could you put an apprentice in the position? Organisations seem to be asking themselves ‘What skills do we need, where are the shortages and can we build our capability via apprenticeships?’. It will be interesting to hear down the line how the Levy is impacting the emerging talent space. As HR becomes more data driven it is becoming easier to get finance interested in recruitment ROI, therefore Resourcing and Finance led initiatives are becoming more common. If the apprenticeship data is managed well, it could be pivotal in how emerging talent is developed. Organisations and businesses with a strong HR-Finance relationship are on the front foot.


While there was no one-size-fits-all answer on how to manage an increasingly fluid and externally curious workforce, it was widely agreed that removing the taboo of looking externally, and engaging employees through honesty and transparency was a good starting point. There was an acceptance that emerging talent will be likely to move on, explore career opportunities across differing industries / sectors and join businesses of different sizes and shapes. Therefore it’s futile to fight the inevitable, but rather to embrace it and make an effort to get the most out of people while they are in a company’s employment. An employee’s professional needs and goals will change over time and a continued open and honest dialogue can only be an improvement on burying our heads in the sand and deluding ourselves that all hires will and should be with us for 10 years.

Catherine Sharpe

Written by , Principal Consultant

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