How to Measure the Success of your Graduate Scheme

Graduates wearing Mortar Boards

With more businesses beginning to recognise the importance of implementing a graduate scheme in order to solve issues in succession planning and knowledge transfer, the future looks bright for graduates. However, many of the companies that are prepared to give graduates those initial opportunities in the professional world are concerned that, when the graduate scheme ends, they will struggle to prove it was worth it. This is especially true if large numbers of those participating in graduate schemes fail to complete it or leave soon after it concludes. The importance of being able to measure the impact of graduate schemes has therefore become a key issue.

This is completely understandable – when money is being invested into anything, it is vital to assess the investment at every stage to ensure it’s not being wasted. The reasons for businesses investing in graduate development schemes might differ considerably, and any attempt to measure a scheme’s success should centre on what the organisation is trying to achieve through running it.

Some reasons for running a graduate development scheme might include:

  • A desire for graduates to progress through to managerial roles
  • A desire to reduce money spent on externally recruiting
  • A desire to create a highly engaged workforce
  • A desire to increase employee retention rates
  • A desire to reduce or prevent any skills gap

All of these goals are different and as such have different parameters that need to be measured to ascertain if they’re coming to fruition. It’s also important to note that a business may have identified multiple reasons as to the implementation of a graduate scheme, and it’s therefore important to identify each of these in turn before considering the criterion for success. Crucially, the factors you choose to examine must be agreed with key stakeholders so everyone is clear what the success and failure of the scheme looks like. Again the identity of key stakeholders will depend on the purpose of the scheme and the set-up of the organisation but will typically include senior managers, department heads and line managers. Regular stakeholder meetings should be encouraged so the programme can be evaluated on a frequent basis from all perspectives.

Graduate engagement

One way in which you can measure the success of a graduate development programme is by focusing on graduate engagement. High levels of engagement have long been linked to the productivity and quality of an employee’s work, and graduates will be no different. Therefore, if they are engaged with their work then you can feel reasonably confident that the scheme is having the intended effect. However the questions you ask will be vitally important; if, for example, your graduates are engaged because they work well with their colleagues, but don’t feel the scheme is having an impact, this suggests the graduate scheme is not the reason for engagement and should be investigated further.

Engagement will also be measured differently depending on your organisation and goals – something as simple as a monthly or quarterly survey that each graduate fills out may suffice or you may prefer to do something more frequently or interactive. You might also choose to track rates of progression in terms of graduates moving through the ranks of a company, in addition to asking for reports (which can focus on personal and professional aspects of a role) on individuals from managers and senior staff.

Graduate performance

An obvious way to assess whether a graduate development scheme is working or not is to measure the performance of the graduates who are currently going through or have completed the programme. Depending on the purpose of the scheme, this can be complex. For example if the point of the programme is to fast-track the graduate’s professional development, how do you assess whether that has worked?

You need to set a tangible target that can be measured. For instance, you might decide that you want at least a third of your 2016 graduates to have progressed to managerial level by a certain date. If that hasn’t happened then you can ask why and dig into the scheme to find out what went wrong, if and how it can be rectified and if it’s worth carrying on with. You may want to target individual performance throughout the scheme as well – annual reviews and appraisals may be one way of doing this, or you might set up a specific graduate appraisal system. There is little point in waiting until the conclusion of the scheme to assess whether it’s impacting graduate performance as by this point it is too late; proactive and ongoing assessment is therefore vital.

Impact on finances and overall goals

When it costs around £30,000 to replace an employee, developing graduates from an early stage can positively contribute to a company’s finances. If you find you’re saving money on recruitment, this will indicate that graduates and internal promotions are doing well, and you can transfer the money to other areas of the business that might need attention.

Additionally, like everything else a business does, the scheme should be tailored to its overall goals and strategy, so graduate intakes should ideally be filling the talent gaps identified by the likes of HR to enable the business to operate as effectively as possible. If that isn’t happening, the scheme strategy may need to be redesigned.

Retention

One of the things graduates and millennial often get berated for is their lack of loyalty, however this is usually a result of their desire to progress, not due to spite or for monetary reasons (at least not wholly).  Assessing the retention of graduates during and post scheme is therefore one of the most efficient ways to assess whether it is fulfilling its purpose. If retention rates are extremely low then this may indicate effort needs to be made on the part of the business to ensure it has created an appropriate platform for graduates to achieve their potential, and is not simply a programme based on past experiences. Each intake of graduates will differ, so making sure you bear this in mind and use feedback from your graduates to inform it will help make it a success.

It’s important to remember that, if a graduate development programme is perceived not to be working in the way you had intended, it isn’t necessary to scrap the whole thing. It may be the case that only a tweak or two is needed, but evaluation and analysis should be fairly constant so you can react as quickly as possible. This will allow you to maximise your investment and ensure that your talent pipeline is well-stocked both in the short and long-term.