Overhauling a Graduate Scheme

A major UK engineering company was seeking support in overhauling their existing graduate scheme which was very focussed on technical skills, and wanted to help create a more balanced approach that also addressed personal effectiveness and that could be offered across the board to all graduates regardless of their role.

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Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

The customer is the UK arm of an international engineering organisation, designing and manufacturing equipment for use in the transportation, aerospace, defence, financial and security sectors. Working in partnership with many well-known organisations and government bodies, the organisation is instrumental in many aspects of daily living including travel, banking and safety in the UK. As an internationally operating organisation facing an ever changing marketplace the customer organisation fully appreciates the need to recruit and embed younger employees to help maintain their competitive edge. They also recognise it to be one of the most effective ways to ensure the organisation is able to proactively address the demographic time-bomb that many businesses are facing.



The Problem

Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

While the customer organisation had been running graduate development schemes for several years, due to changes in business strategy and graduate deployment, there were concerns that the existing programme was no longer suitable. These concerns had been raised by various parties, including the graduates themselves, and demonstrated a need for a new approach to be introduced. In particular it was felt that the existing programme focussed too heavily on technical skills development as the central point of the scheme. This centralised approach meant that much of the training was not specific enough to be applied within the graduate’s role. In addition due to a growing number of business graduates being introduced alongside engineering specialists, many felt that the scheme was not evenly balanced and did not represent the needs of these diverse workforces. The customer was therefore seeking to overhaul and redesign the scheme to ensure it would address the real needs of the graduates and that could be applicable across the board, regardless of role.



The Solution

Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

Before a new programme could be developed and implemented it was vital that both the customer and TLD first had a clear and unified idea of what a successful programme would look like and what the outcomes would be. In order to understand this vision and begin building an appropriate solution to achieve it, TLD worked in partnership with the organisation to explore the areas of concern, discuss the wider business strategy and vision, and establish priorities for the new programme. This was achieved via in-depth consultation and collaboration between TLD and the customer organisation, industry benchmarking and obtaining feedback from business stakeholders including the graduates themselves. As a result several primary themes were uncovered which included the need for technical knowledge to be developed on the job and the importance of mentors and line managers in this process; the need for central training programmes to focus on personal effectiveness; and the need to implement a more robust 70:20:10 approach utilising an appropriate mix of digital and experiential approaches. In addition to these being of primary importance it was also agreed that graduates should hold more responsibility for their development, and part of the agreed solution would be to allocate a designated pot of money for each graduate that they can spend on the training they feel will best advance their skills. This was particularly important for engineering graduates who need to develop a technical skill set on the job and through training, to progress along the route to chartered engineer status. These elements were all incorporated into a newly designed graduate scheme contributing to a radical change to the current approach.



The Training

Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

While much of the amendments made to the scheme affecting the overall principles and approach, this also meant several significant updates to the actual training programmes were required. The bulk of the ‘formal learning’ offered to the graduates centred on developing personal effectiveness skills. The training focussed on the following themes:

Developing followership - Whereas some organisations focus on leadership development for graduates, as a result of conversations internally and benchmarking with competitors it was acknowledged that in the majority of cases graduates will not be pursuing leadership positions within their first few years, and importantly not everyone will want to. In addition to this it was recognised that in order to be a good leader an individual also needs to be able to follow business leaders effectively, and for the benefit of their future progression, it was agreed that the focus of the training should be on followership rather than leadership at this stage.

Understanding self – related to the overarching theme of followership the primary focal point for the first year of the programme addressed the development of the personal understanding. By running sessions looking at resilience, self-awareness, and communication styles, and using tools such as psychometrics, 3600 feedback and mentoring graduates are encouraged to consider how their personal approach effects their success in the business. Indeed, at the graduate induction, where TLD runs a 2 day experiential learning based communications programme, new graduates commented how useful this training would have been at university, to have prepared them for the workplace of today.

Relating to others – building upon the skills developed in the first year of the programme, the second year focusses on enabling the graduates to better understand others and build better relationships to ensure wider team success. This is completed via a number of different methods including formal learning sessions, workshops, and feedback sessions. In addition each graduate is offered an in-depth feedback session with their line manager to allow them a chance to discuss their progress and desired career path, and explore what further development they may need to achieve this. To conclude the training each graduate will undertake a development centre at the end of the programme which will help them define their future career goals and pathways in the company.

Diverse training methods – using a mix of classroom based sessions, experiential learning and digital approaches, the graduates are presented with a wide range of ways to enhance their skills and develop their potential. Some of the activities have included the use of role play with professional actors, online business simulations and mental and physical problem solving tasks. The last task graduates complete in the final stages of the programme is a challenge linked to corporate responsibility and STEM activities.



The Challenges

Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

Stakeholder engagement – The biggest challenge TLD faced in the development of the programme was finding a way to engage a hugely diverse range of stakeholders in an effective way, and explain the potential benefits that this radical change could have to their function. This challenge was overcome by utilising the detailed feedback TLD had compiled from different individuals within the business, as well as information obtained from benchmarking research and a comprehensive cost benefit analysis. This ensured a clear rationale could be given to help everyone understand the benefits the changes would bring. All potential changes were discussed extensively with a review committee comprising senior members of the business, which ensured the programme would be fully aligned with the business strategy.




Creating a balanced approach to developing Graduates

The programme is currently in the early stages and the reviews are on-going; feedback is constantly being collected to ensure the programme is being well received by the graduates and having the positive impact on the business expected by relevant stakeholders. However one of the major things that graduates reported during past inductions was a lack of personal effectiveness training at university, and many are already reporting finding the new scheme to be much more effective in developing these skills.

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