Don’t turn the lights off

Stories abound of young people opting for
greener overseas pastures, attracted by superior work opportunities, higher salaries and the chance to escape their student debt.
Pre Y2K, technology graduates were leaving to earn big money in London and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, many organisations worried these people might be lost forever.
Organisations are right to be concerned about losing talent overseas, but with the right strategy, skilled people can be wooed back to work, bringing new maturity and experience with them.
Unfortunately we have patchy history in managing graduate staff.
Some like big CA firm do it well Ñ carefully developing people. Graduates work through professional programme of exams and varied job experiences to full qualification.
At that point staff often want to take time off for travel. Some of these organisations reinforce their ties with valued employees by helping facilitate work experience within their international networks. Staff do come back “home”, and are welcomed for their new and varied experiences.
Others are less well organised. Take for example big Wellington law firm I know of. All of one year’s graduate intake were given jobs but no opportunity to move around the firm to gain wider experience. All of next year’s intake were employed on higher salaries.
The demotivation was bad enough. What’s worse, is no one thought there was anything strange about that.
So, what’s to be done? Here are seven practical steps to help organisations attract bright young graduates back to the fold.
1) Recognise it’s privilege and responsibility to hire graduate. Graduates add vitality and brim with enthusiasm, energy and ideas. They also require special care.
2) Develop strategic plan specifying the skills, knowledge and personal attributes you want and detail how graduate recruitment programme will operate. Nothing sends stronger signal than the professionalism displayed by an organisation when it’s recruiting.
Finding technical skills is the easy bit Ñ the hard part is finding compatible personalities and working styles.
3) Make sure your nurturing programme doesn’t end after induction. Graduates are straining to prove themselves and will quickly become bored and disillusioned and leave if not kept fully engaged.
Graduates seem full of confidence but this is mostly illusion and they are vulnerable to losing self confidence. They need frequent, positive feedback about performance and must be managed by people who understand the graduate is still developing as an adult and therefore only appears to know everything.
4) Ensure graduates are assigned to an appropriate manager who can be both supervisor and mentor and who is sympathetic to graduate’s need to adjust to the reality of paid employment after several years at university.
5) Develop an individual programme for each person, stretching out over at least the next year. It’s essential to show graduate there is plan, that things will not just drift along and that they have something to look forward to. year is long, long time for graduate and they need to see the prospect of work variety, training opportunities and realistic targets that are attainable.
6) Succession planning is something very few New Zealand organisations do well Ñ the position of Governor General is an exception. Graduates need to have explained where the opportunities lie within company and what they have to do to get there, both through formal training and through job placements.
It is part of making work in an organisation meaningful. The trend towards “self managing” career has no place in effective graduate managing because graduates generally have little life experience and no knowledge about the organisation’s internal workings to guide them.
7) Make it plain you expect people to go overseas to enrich their experiences, and that you will make it easy for them to come back. For some organisations this is achieved by extended time off without pay.
For others it may be done through facilitating work opportunities abroad Ñ and not necessarily for long periods.
Statistically, New Zealanders are among the world’s greatest travellers but they nearly all return at some stage. It’s not hard to make your organisation one of the attractions, along with the lifestyle and the new wine crop. Bon voyage!
Ian Clark is consultant with human resource consultancy Greene Hanson.

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