Very few businesses, large or small, local or global, do not employ graduates these days.
Why is this? And what is it differentiates graduates from the rest of the labour market?
The answer to the first question is straightforward - they form the largest fresh talent pool. In round figures there are 300,000 first degree graduates a year emerging from universities in the United Kingdom. Take away those who go overseas, those who continue in higher education and those taking a gap year, and there are still something like 170,000 entering the UK labour market. Frankly, it's hard to ignore them!
Moving on to the question of what differentiates graduates, there several compelling reasons for recruiting and developing graduates.
So how do employers go about ensuring they get their share of the graduate talent pool?
With more graduates year on year, the challenge is to identify and compete for those you really want to attract to your business.
Graduate attraction is the cornerstone to any recruitment campaign. Ask yourself:
Put another way, what do you expect from graduates and what can they expect from you in return? Utilising your market brand is important although easier for some businesses to exploit than others - especially those new to graduate recruitment.
Targeting the right graduates is the next challenge. If possible adopt an integrated marketing approach, incorporating written materials, media advertising, website content and other activities such as on campus presentations and careers fairs. You don't necessarily have to spend vast amounts of money. AGR member organisations, even those who recruit hundreds of graduates each year, look for ways of reducing unit costs. It's not a big splash you are after but a campaign that gets the right messages across to the right types of candidates making the best use of resources including online technology and face-to-face contacts.
The next step is selecting the 'best fit' candidates from the application pool. Some employers receive large numbers of applications and narrowing the field down to manageable proportions can be quite a challenge. Screening criteria have to be lawful and fair. As well as having regard for existing employment legislation take note of the impending age discrimination bill which will outlaw selection criteria based on dates of birth from October 2006.
Increasing use is made of telephone screening, online testing and self deselection exercises to help candidates decide whether or not a vacancy is right for them before making a formal application. Whatever tools are used, try to ensure that there is enough flexibility to avoid missing out on the unpolished diamond.
There are plenty of external providers to turn to if the circumstances fit. Outsourcing the process is an option if you don't have the expertise in house or if you are looking to reduce costs; greater use of technology another but a balance has to be stuck between price and quality. Never forget that today's candidate may be tomorrow's customer. A bad application process could cost businesses dearly in the long run.
Beyond screening, employers who are recruiting more than one or two graduates often use assessment centres to help make the final selection. Perhaps the best assessment tool is work experience where both the business and the individual get the opportunity of an 'employment trial'. There are a range of such arrangements from summer internships to year long sandwich placements. Not forgetting the part-time student employee. Too few employers target this pool. The beauty of work experience is that all types of business, large and small, can arrange quality placements. I stress quality because the one downside of offering work experience is that if the experience is bad, it causes more harm than good.
So, is it worth the effort to recruit graduates? Well, the 600 plus businesses that form the membership of AGR clearly think so. But don't just take our word for it!
In 2004, we commissioned Dr Anthony Hesketh, of the Management School at the University of Lancaster, to undertake research into the added value that graduates, and in particular structured graduate programmes bring to organisations.
Adding Value beyond Measure demonstrated a raft of benefits of employing and developing graduates all of which benefit the bottom line:
Hesketh's research suggests that graduates contribute a massive £1 billion of added value to the UK economy each year. But before you all rush out and grab the first graduates to emerge from your local university remember to ask yourself the questions contained in the early part of this feature.
Then you have to consider how you nurture and develop the talent you have brought to your organisation.
Whatever the size of your business it is important to have a strategy designed to develop talent.
Ideally, set up a development programme. Here are a few lines of advice to take on board if starting from scratch:
This last point, of course, is crucial to justifying the effort and expense of recruiting and developing graduates. Start by measuring their contribution to the business in terms of profit by assessing the delivery of projects and meeting agreed targets. Then measure their learning and development and rate of progress through the programme. This will in turn give an indication of the graduate's future potential.
AGR is party to a new tool which has been developed by the University of Lancaster Management School. Called the Graduate Score Card it is designed to help organisations monitor both costs and returns and make informed decisions about future investment and strategy. This is done through a variety of means including benchmarking measurement against other businesses.
Graduate recruitment is not a cheap option but it's a vital one for any business that believes that the contribution of their human capital is a major driver to business success. Building your own talent pipeline is going to have a much healthier impact on your bottom line than being at the mercy of the experienced hire market.
AGR (The Association of Graduate Recruiters)
The Innovation Centre
Warwick technology Park
Tel: 01926 623236
'Adding Value beyond Measure' can be purchased directly from AGR