TTT – Successful Graduate Talent Development and Engagement

Graduate ImageThese are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Talent Think Tank (TTT) held on Thursday 19th June 2014 hosted by UK Power Network’s Lisa Booth (Talent & Leadership Manager) and Louise Mitchell (Graduate Programmes Consultant) titled ‘Successful Graduate Talent Development and Engagement’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Diversity 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’.


Attracting and recruiting graduate talent is a topic widely discussed and is something we’ve dedicated a number of Think Tanks to addressing. However, the practice of engaging and developing graduates once in a role provides a new canvas for exploring best practice. After all, with large amounts of money and resource being spent hiring these ‘stars of the future’, what can HR do to ensure this talent group is engaged and developed effectively for the right positions?


Before you introduce a graduate programme, it is essential that the business is clear on why you need it.

The three common reasons were:

1)     An ageing workforce in many organisations means that graduate programmes are replenishing key skills that may not be available to the business in the next 10 years. Graduates also bring new ideas and a different mindset.

2)     To identify future leaders.

3)     High-growth or startup businesses with an immediate need for talent. These programmes will often introduce graduates straight into a live role, where they can be generating revenue or working on projects early on in their careers.


Who are your graduates?

‘Graduates’ nowadays typically refers to Millennials or Generation Y. These are people born anywhere between the mid-1980s to early-2000s. Typical traits and values are a strong sense of community and entitlement, confidence, tolerance, narcissism, etc.

Despite the strong sense of community and team values, when graduates are introduced into a business environment, they can often become incredibly competitive (almost arrogant?) – perhaps due to limited places on graduate schemes and the need to prove themselves, or perhaps down to their own insecurities? It is crucial to monitor these values and maintain the sense of engagement and community. Utilise technology such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with them before they join, and Yammer once they are in the business.

Whose resource are they?

The general consensus at the Think Tank was that having graduates as a centralised resource, with the headcount driven by HR, creates a demand for graduates and encourages line manages to give them opportunities for a set period of time (c.1-3 months on a rotation). Judging by the reaction in the room, this seems to be a relatively new initiative, with most businesses still taking graduate headcount from the functions.

Having a centralised resource is beneficial for the graduates too, as they are exposed to a wider range of departments and projects, meaning that they can decide what the best career path available would be, as well as having variety in their roles.

Who are your key stakeholders, and are they engaged?

The ultimate stakeholder is the graduate! However, other key stakeholders include the leadership team, middle-managers and line managers. It is also important to have sponsors / ambassadors in the business (usually HR BPs) to promote the success of the graduate schemes.

Investing in line manager training is crucial. People leave managers, not companies. You may have a brilliant graduate programme, but if you have poor managers you risk losing valuable talent. Suggestions from our members on how to approach this were:

  • Hold a line manager training session every year before your graduate intake starts. A key thing to cover is expectation management – ensuring graduates are aware of what is on offer, they don’t have unrealistic expectations on when they can expect promotions, how they will be utilised in the business, etc.
  • Ad hoc training days for line managers looking to take on graduates mid way through the year.
  • Manager Awards as voted for by graduates. This was seen as a great idea but it could be very subjective.


How do you create a dream graduate programme and what does it look like?

  • Centralised headcount driven by HR
  • Sponsors in the organisation
  • Key projects to work on, in line with business strategy
  • Selection based on potential, not their degree
  • Offering a self-service type model whereby graduates are encouraged to network internally to arrange their own placements
  • Regular reviews and close monitoring of performance
  • Talent pipelining for the business in the longer-term


How do you retain and engage graduates?

The following slide, taken from UK Power Networks’ intro presentation, sums it up perfectly! This diagram is from the graduate’s perspective and shows what is important in engaging them:

Grad Development


Source: UK Power Networks


What happens next?

Off-boarding into the business

Introduce a career progression programme and panel review to discuss their aspirations. Are they realistic? What timescale could they expect to achieve this in? This works well as a three-way discussion between the graduate, their current/potential line manager and the graduate programmes manager.

Also, this is a great time to introduce them to leadership tools and initiatives by holding a day on what it takes to become future leaders.

Ensure it is clear what will change when they do off-board – change in title or grade? Salary increase? etc.

Talent sharing / swapping

In certain sectors or organisations, you may not be able to offer graduates the experience they desire longer-term. i.e. huge blue-chips may not have the same opportunities as a start-up business (and vice versa). Could you therefore consider working in partnership with a different business to offer secondments? This is becoming an increasingly popular scheme and allows graduates to gain some new skills to bring back to your organisation.

But what happens if you invest in graduates and they leave? Unfortunately in this day and age, it is inevitable that some graduates may be lured away by competitors. It is also inevitable that you will hire experienced people who have come through other graduate programmes… so all is not lost!

A valuable question to ask graduates is “why are you staying?” rather than focusing on why people leave. When you know this information, you can continue doing it! Are there great line managers that graduates enjoy working with? Have they found specific projects valuable or gained certain accreditations? etc.

 Key takeaways

  • Know why you are hiring graduates, and customise the programme and rotations according to your needs.
  • Be flexible and allow graduates to select which business areas they would like to work in. Offer them guidance on which placements will give them which skills (important for future roles).
  • The graduate is the key stakeholder!
  • Invest in line manager training, as people leave managers not businesses…
  • When off-boarding, give them a leadership development day and help to plan their next steps in the business.
  • Don’t discard swapping talent with other businesses, or offering secondments. It could provide the graduates with valuable skills and experiences that you can’t offer them, meaning longer term engagement and retention.
Hannah Waters

Written by , Research Team Lead

Hannah joined Oasis HR in January 2011 after graduating with a 2.1 degree in Physical Geography. Having been promoted twice, Hannah now manages our Research Team and is due to finish her CMI course next year. Hannah specialises in HR Business Partner & Head of HR positions, and is also responsible for managing the HR Business Partner Think Tank. In her spare time, she is a keen fitness-enthusiast (most of the time…!), and completed the Mens Health ‘Survival of the Fittest’ challenge in 2012. She is competing again this year, and has recently started the Insanity workout (a craze that is slowly sweeping the office). Hannah is also about to trek the Inca Trail in Peru as part of a short tour of South America.

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