Graduate training: Initiation ceremonies

Graduate training programmes may be a learning and development staple, but they do have some surprising twists.

As we approach the business end of the academic year, many university students will be preparing to sit their final exams. The lucky or organised ones who have already lined up a job can then, perhaps, look forward to a long summer before entering the world of work and experiencing some form of graduate induction.

But just what should be expected of a graduate training and development programme in 2008?

BPP Professional Education is one of the largest training providers of development programmes for the financial sector. Director of professional development Kate Creighton says graduate training can take many forms depending on what the employer wants to achieve.

Intensive mix

At one extreme, a graduate programme can last several hard-working months, comprising an intensive mix of coaching, evening work and testing. At the other end, new recruits might spend a week or so gaining some core knowledge about how the City works before being sent out on rotation to work in different parts of the business.

“It may be that at this point the employer has not decided where it wants its graduates to work, or that they want their people to understand the business as a whole,” says Creighton.

Many graduates coming into the City must also pass industry exams, so many of BPP’s graduate courses also contain training in core areas devised in conjunction with line managers.

Getting graduates to start thinking about teamwork and collaboration with colleagues is an aspect of their training highlighted by Jane Read, managing director of team-building training firm City Challenge.

“People who come straight out of university are used to thinking singularly. They have studied solo towards a degree and part of what we do is to start altering this mindset and get them working together,” she says.

Urban orienteering

The company, which specialises in urban orienteering-style events has recently started working with a leading financial firm in the City to provide a two-day programme as part of its first week of graduate training. Last year, a total of 220 graduates were split into groups of 15 or so and given a series of tasks and quizzes that took them on a tour of the City where they had to seek information before moving on to the next stage.

As well as stop-offs at the Bank of England Museum and Guildhall, the graduates were also given imitation money with which they had to barter with other groups. With facilitators on hand to direct and encourage the participants, Read says this approach is designed to give the new recruits an appreciation of the rich history and culture of the environment they are now part of and to start to develop skills in areas they will be expected to master.

The importance of developing leadership skills and illustrating an employer’s corporate values were some of the main learning points to come out of an innovative graduate training programme run by supermarket chain Sainsburys last September.

Design and build

The two-day event, devised by development specialist Impact, saw around 45 graduates design and then build a herb and vegetable garden at a primary school in the London borough of Newham, as part of their first-week induction course with the company, explains Impact’s community action learning specialist Andy Caldwell.

“This was a school on special measures in one of the city’s poorest areas. The event was aligned with the company’s values of working with the community and promoting healthy eating while also giving the team a meaningful project where decision-making and delegation were important,” he says.

As well as installing raised planters, the graduates had to create recycling points, install flower beds, and incorporate educational information points for the pupils. As a result of the programme, Caldwell has been approached by a number of other employers keen to develop similar events.

“Corporate values are high on the agenda of many graduates today, and to include an element of this from the start shows a real commitment and can be a major attraction for employers.”

Case study: BPP Professional Education

In 2007, BPP Professional Education designed a four-week development programme for a team of graduates who had recently joined a major City investment bank.

According to Kate Creighton, head of City training at BPP, the programme was structured so that on completion, participants were familiar with their employer’s market and products. It also aimed to ensure that all of the graduates had the core skills required to do a pre-course test on financial mathematics, basic economics and company accounts.

Each day also started with a morning briefing where one of the graduates was selected to give a brief presentation on the morning’s main news, or a topical issue of their own choosing.

This was then followed by a quiz on the previous day’s training.

According to Creighton, the training was interactive and participative, using a range of different methods to ensure learning objectives were met.

“For example, graduates worked in groups on case studies developed in collaboration with line managers to be relevant to their future workplace,” she says.

To ensure variety and relevance, each week also included a day on persona and business skills such as time management, presentation skills and negotiating skills.

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