Degrees of commitment

trainers share their tips on winning the hearts and minds of this year’s pick
of the crop

It’s that time of year: the leaves are turning and employers are gearing up
to capitalise on one of their most expensive resources – graduate trainees.

Recruitment costs and salaries for graduates have escalated over the past
few years as employers compete to attract the best. This autumn’s intake can
expect to earn salaries of about £19,000 with one in 10 starting on £25,000 or

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, 28 per cent of firms
have also handed out a golden hello to graduates of anything from £500 to

But even with all that money thrown at them, there is no guarantee that your
prize graduates will stick with you. The AGR’s research shows that after four
years most firms can expect to have lost between 30 and 40 per cent of their

The problem is that over the past few years a real tension has grown up
between the need to keep graduates and the harsh reality that no job is for
life and old-fashioned corporate careers don’t exist any more.

As a result, although employers are still looking to grow their future
leaders, graduates are looking for jobs that will make them employable
elsewhere. In addition there is a further tension between the needs of the company
as a whole and the requirements of individual business units. Graduate trainers
are caught in the middle of this dilemma.

Jonathan Wainwright a management development consultant with HBSO, formerly
the Halifax and the Bank of Scotland, is all too conscious of the need to keep
hold of high-fliers.

HBSO’s graduate intake is still on the increase – it was 60 last year, 100
this year and Wainwright expects it to go up to 140 or so next year.

The bank has been refining its graduate training scheme over the past few
years. One of the biggest changes has been in achieving a balance between
centralised and decentralised development. Wainwright thinks HBSO has now got
it right.

"Two or three years ago we were recruiting general business management
trainees who spent time working in different areas before deciding where they
wanted to be. Now we recruit graduates into specific business management area
such as retail, finance, personnel and so on," Wainwright says.

As a result, each graduate has a two-tier programme. There is the
professional training they receive in their business unit, for example training
to become an actuary or retail sales manager. Then there is the core
development programme that Wainwright runs centrally for all 100 graduates.

"We have no control over what the business units do with their
graduates, so what we are doing with our core programme is saying these people
are high potential and we need to know who they are and where they are,"
Wainwright says.

The core programme lasts for about 18 months and consists of four modules
designed to deliver general leadership competencies. It’s also very much about
helping future managers build up networks and learning communities within the
bank that will last well beyond the 18 months.

"When they come off the scheme, we will help them find a corporate
mentor from another part of the business to help them continue their
development, but they take control of it," Wainwright says.

By the time their first 18 months is up, HBSO presumes that most graduates
will be in a fairly substantive job within the organisation – but they are
expected to have contributed something of value to the organisation well before

"We expect them to add value from day one. We can’t wait 18 months for
graduates to deliver benefit to the business," Wainwright says.

Other graduate recruiters echo his sentiments. There is much talk about
today’s graduates being more business aware than their counterparts a decade
ago. Whether or not this is really so, employers expect a return on their
massive investment and they want their graduates to hit the ground running.

The best graduate training schemes are therefore now designed to instil
business savvy into graduates as quickly as possible. In the case of high
street optician Dolland & Aitchison and car manufacturer Ford, this is
about providing graduates with an insight into customer needs.

"Part of our European strategy is about being in touch with our
customers and that’s something we have been building into our training
programme for graduates," says Joanna Banfield, recruitment manager with
Ford of Britain.

The induction programme is one tool to get this message across. Ford also
sends out a motivational message from chairman Jacques Nasser each week.
"This always includes a reference to the need to be consumer driven,"
Banfield says.

A growing number of graduate employers have decided that the only way to
ensure graduates are work ready is by working more closely with them through
university. This approach is in line with the government’s insistence that
students should be more employable when they finish their degrees and it goes
far beyond the sort of work placements that were being offered to students on
sandwich courses 10 years ago.

For example, supermarket chain Asda runs its Flying Start programme, which
gives students training as well as a part-time job. The aim is to encourage
these students, who now have a fair understanding of what Asda is about, to join
the company as graduate trainees.

Other employers such as Ford and PriceWaterhouseCoopers send staff on to
campuses to provide training in soft skills such as presentation and
communication techniques. "This approach seems to be working – graduates
do have more business awareness now," says Jackie Alexander, recruitment
partner with PwC.

"It’s partly because they are working more during their university
days, but it’s also because there is more input at university from

Over the past couple of years, Ford has been providing this sort of
on-campus training through a consortium of four university careers services in
the Northeast, called Impact.

In addition, the car giant is about to launch a mentoring scheme targeting
ethnic minority undergraduates in their penultimate year. "We want to help
undergraduates identify their weaknesses and build their strengths in their
final year. We want them to feel prepared for work," Banfield says.

There will be 25 places available and mentors will be keen line managers
drawn from each of Ford’s seven business functions.

Mentoring sessions will take place in a variety of ways – on site, on
campus, over the phone or via e-mail.

In addition, Ford will offer undergraduates on the mentoring scheme five
days in-house training covering skills such as team working and interviewing

Finally, each will be fast-tracked to the Ford graduate assessment centre,
with a view to being offered a job when they graduate.

It’s too early to say how the current downturn is going to affect the
numbers of graduates that firms take on. There have been a few high profile
announcements of employers such as the consultancy arm of PwC, deferring or
cancelling some job offers.

But even if the number of graduate vacancies falls, firms are unlikely to
cut back on the levels of training they are offering students before and after
they graduate.

Graduates will still be an expensive resource and firms will still be
competing for the best.

What is more, the increased mobility of the labour market has meant that
training is now a core part of the package employers offer. They can’t afford
to take their eyes off the ball.

Case study: Life at lattice

If you want your expensive graduates to stick with you, then you have to give
a good impression from day one.

With this in mind, the Lattice Group, formed last year out of
British Gas, runs an energetic induction programme for its new graduates.

"The programme provides an insight into the culture,
strategy and structures of the business," says Jim Borritt, graduate
recruitment and development manager with Transco, a member of the Lattice

The programme is now in its fourth year and more than 50
graduates attended the most recent two-week course run earlier this month. It
is built on a range of experiential exercises and draws on the input of many
senior managers.

Lattice has adopted the view that getting stuck in is probably
the best way to get on, and by day four graduates are making fantasy millions.
Working in teams of seven or eight , they have to earn points to purchase
T-shirt designs. They "win" money according to how well they have
performed and their winnings go with them into week two of the course.

The aim of week two is to create a realistic work environment.
Working in the same teams graduates are presented with a project to research
throughout the week. These focus on key business issues for the group such as
the branding of the Lattice Group.

The induction provides a dynamic introduction to the group and
marks the start of graduates’ two-year training programme. Thereafter their
training takes place at company level.

Case study: Vision of

High street optician Dollond & Aitchison is taking on
around 40 graduate optometrists this year.

In addition to excellent clinical skills, D&A wants its
graduate trainees to be able to build a rapport with patients. So it has just
run a five-day programme aimed at marrying clinical expertise and customer care.

"Optometrists must be professional, friendly and caring.
They have to able to explain all stages of the eye examination and to reassure
the patient by providing unbiased, professional advice," says director of
professional services with D&A Rob Hogan.

The firm argues that if patients come out of an eye examination
feeling good about the care, attention and information they have just received,
they are more likely to purchase glasses in the store and become a customer.

Designed by training firm Interaction, the programme is geared
to developing graduates’ ability to listen to and empathise with their
patients. Graduates kicked off with a mystery shopper exercise.

Some were given a range of products from different stores to
return. Others were also asked to buy the same products at different stores and
the rest took eye tests or asked for advice at competitor branches.

Back at base, role play helped graduates further develop their
chair-side manner. Actors stood in as patients with graduates conducting eye
examinations. Graduates were expected to cope and keep the examination going as
"patients" became increasingly demanding.

Hogan says feedback has been encouraging. "The programme
has provided a solid foundation for graduates from which to learn and aspire to
excellence in customer service," he says.

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