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How to set up your grad scheme for success

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With fewer candidates applying for vacant roles, businesses need to look at new ways to attract and retain talent.  When set up and maintained well, a graduate scheme can provide a consistent influx of new talent and ideas to a business.  It allows a company to plan for the future with confidence that they have a talent pipeline to meet their future needs.

But to be successful, a scheme needs to work effectively from top to bottom.  This means investing time and resources at every stage of the process – through recruitment, retention and continuing professional development.  Unsurprisingly, successful schemes place the candidates themselves at their core.

First, recruit right

Successful graduate recruitment requires a truly graduate facing approach.  By having a dedicated candidate website, strong social media presence and internal graduate ambassadors from previous cohorts, businesses can communicate effectively to students and recent leavers about how their programme can help navigate that tricky period between education and work.

Many graduates won’t necessarily have heard of your business or even your industry.  While the big four accountants and top FTSE employers may be well established in the minds of graduates, most employers will have to explain their business to potential candidates.

To communicate the appeal of an industry, employers need to dig beneath the surface and explain how it works in practice.  Using our sector as an example, we need to explain that property management is about more than bricks and mortar.  Working in our business means developing relationships, managing budgets, delivering complex projects and working towards professional qualifications.  Businesses should be prepared to do this – many will need to court graduates from all sorts of disciplines, not just those associated with their industry.  Some of our best graduates come from degree disciplines as diverse as law and art history.  If we restricted ourselves to property management degrees, we would miss out on other high-potential graduates.

Once an offer has been made we commit to keeping in touch with our new hires in the months prior to the programmes starting, sending them updates on the company and creating a community – so they feel at home from day one.

Knowledge and networks

Recruiting is only the start.  It’s vital that graduates then join a scheme that educates, supports and moulds them into top professionals.

There’s always a balance to be struck between academic study which leads towards professional accreditation, and practical, on-the-job training. The important thing is that graduates feel that they are encouraged to take on real responsibility.  FirstPort graduates start with a tailored programme of teaching and self-study before quickly getting more hands on in the business.

Through a rotational programme, we keep placements varied, ensuring graduates gain substantial experience in our core, revenue-generating business, as well as support services such as finance, legal or HR.  All of our graduates are encouraged to spend time in our operational divisions – be it property management, retirement housing, luxury developments, or all of the above – so that wherever they choose to specialise in future, they understand our core business and objectives.

Getting experience across our organisation helps our graduates grow a wide professional network and gain a real understanding of our corporate values – not in abstract terms, but applied in a meaningful way in different parts of the business.  To that end, we even leave some of our highest profile charitable initiatives in graduates’ hands.  An annual hike up Mount Snowdon is one of our biggest fundraisers and helps grads to understand that corporate responsibility is at the heart of what we do.

The yardsticks of success

On completion of the scheme, we’ve seen our grads go on to take up a range of roles with a surprising (and encouraging) number of first-time leaders interested in working in retirement property management.  What unites them is that they are ready to take on significant responsibilities early in their careers.  Our newly qualified property managers can take on portfolios of 20 sites and 1,000 homes from day one.

Graduates want to believe in the future of the business they work for.  We support this by giving each member of the scheme their own mentor from our executive management team, offering candidates unique access to the leadership of the company and a sense of the scale of the opportunity that’s in front of them.  But the initiative is mutually beneficial – we see a great deal of reverse mentoring taking place, where leaders are gaining insight into technology trends, employee engagement and how staff are feeling on the ground directly from our graduates.  It means our leaders believe in the scheme and that we’re listening to feedback at every level.

Retention is in many ways the ultimate measure of success.  By recruiting well, nurturing carefully and trusting candidates with responsibility, companies will develop professionals who are ready to add huge value to their business.  At FirstPort, we’ve seen that a well-structured scheme, supported by strong professional accreditation programmes and opportunities to develop strong networks, is helping our graduates become the future leaders for our industry.




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