Do graduates expect too much, too soon?

graduates“Graduates arrive on day one expecting they’ll be CEO in 5 years!” This is a frustration that we often hear from companies who want to recruit and develop talented graduates, but worry that they’re just exacerbating the unrealistic expectations that these graduates arrive with.

From what we’ve heard from our clients, these expectations usually take two forms – the first is around the kinds of work and level of responsibility that graduates are given, and the second is around the pace and visibility of their career progression through the organization.

Graduates arrive in their first job having absorbed a lot of information and acquired a high degree of skill in a specific area, and many of them expect to be given the opportunity to apply these skills and knowledge straight away. When they are given basic, repetitive tasks to perform, they quickly become frustrated.

The second trend – around career progression – seems to be getting more acute as organizations move to flatter structures with fewer distinct steps on their corporate ladders. Compared to an education system in which there is a visible path of progression from term to term and from year to year, the workplace can sometimes feel like a treadmill with a bad view.

The response of some employers is to throw their hands up and opt not to employ graduates, or certainly not to give them any ‘special treatment’ once they arrive. However, in the context of South Africa’s talent profile, and the competition for that talent, this surely cannot be the right answer.

Our experience (and SAGRA’s research) has shown us that two of the most important factors in successfully integrating graduates are the training and development that they receive, and the degree to which they are helped to map out a career path. In the training and development interventions that we design and implement for our clients we focus specifically on managing the expectations of graduates, as well as connecting them with mentors who can help them map out their career paths.

But, as always at Connemara, we’re still on a learning curve. Comment below and let us know what you’ve noticed about the expectations of your graduate recruits, and how you manage those expectations.

Graduate retention challenges in South Africa

Working recently with several large South African companies, particularly in the financial services industry, we’ve come face-to-face with some of the challenges of attracting and retaining talented black graduates.

There appear to be two main aspects to the retention challenge. The first of these is the acculturation challenge – particularly in large companies with an established culture that is still transforming, graduates may initially feel uncomfortable in what to them is an alien environment. For some, this discomfort will be so bad that they will leave the company within their first or second year.

The second aspect is more of a pull factor than a push factor. Because the competition for black talent is so intense, opportunities exist for graduates to hop from one job to another in their first few years, often securing pay increases and other perks when they do so.

Given that it can take up to 7 years for a graduate hire to repay what has been invested in them, this high rate of turnover amongst graduates is a financial drain on companies, not to mention a disruption to workforce morale and productivity.

Our experience has shown us (and this is backed up every year by the findings of the SAGRA report on graduate recruitment trends) that training and development within a graduate’s first year with a company is one of the key factors that determines whether they stay or go.

What has your experience been with graduates, and black graduates in particular? What do you think are some of the key ways to retain graduates?

Key success factors for graduate development

We conducted research for a large South African financial services company recently, looking at graduate development and retention generally, but also looking to identify specific success factors for that company’s graduate development programme.

One of the key things that we identified was the importance of buy-in from line managers to developing the graduates. This insight affected both the way that we positioned the programme and the way that we structured it.

Firstly, an internal marketing campaign would look to provide line managers in the different business units with information on the graduate development programme in advance of it being rolled out, and would make the business case for graduate development.

Secondly, we recommended that the graduates be employed into permanent positions, and that they not be rotated through different business units during the development programme. We heard from several sources within the company that line managers were far more likely to nurture and develop a graduate if they knew they could keep them on their team.

Not everyone agreed that this was the best way to structure the programme – good arguments were put forward for rotating graduates (it exposes them to opportunities and leaders in different parts of the business, prepares them as potential future leaders), and for fixed term contracts (allowing both grad and business to feel each other out before committing).

How do you structure your graduate development programmes? Do you rotate the grads through different business units? Do you offer fixed term or permanent contracts? And how do you find that this affects buy-in from your line managers?