Get better returns from your grad development spend
17 August 2009 8:52am
Economic conditions are exerting pressure on graduate development programs, but there are five "levers" to maximise returns on your spend, says training specialist Josh Mackenzie.
Today's graduates face different pressures to those of previous years, he says, with business restructuring removing their ability to manage or predict their career paths - "they no longer know if their job will exist in three years, or even if they'll be offered a permanent role at the end of their program" - and the new challenge of working with managers who are also under pressure.
Mackenzie, co-owner of Development Beyond Learning, says that to help grads - and their managers - through uncertain times, HR should set up focused mentoring sessions with older people in the organisation, "who have been through two or three major downturns in their working life and have come out on top".
He says: "I haven't seen a lot of that happening, but I think it's particularly important."
In this environment of reduced budgets and being asked to do more with less, Mackenzie says, there are five levers to maximise ROI from your graduate development dollar:
Clear goals - Employers must be certain of what they want their grads to achieve through the program.
"What are they actually going to be doing differently after that time; what competencies are they going to be displaying in the workplace with their colleagues, in interactions with clients or whatever their roles might be?"
Program length - Most graduate development programs last two years, Mackenzie says, but the duration must be tailored to the needs of each organisation. The major reason grads choose an employer is for the training and development it offers, he says, but at the program's conclusion they are "let go into the abyss of the big organisation" and there is no more formal training.
Employers must consider how much to invest in training and development throughout the employee's career, while being mindful that they need to set grads up to achieve, and to move them from entry-level knowledge to achievement-level competence, "but we can't set them up so much that they become reliant on the organisation for their development".
Size of graduate intake - Many organisations continue to take in the same amount of graduates as ever, Mackenzie says, without "pushing back" on the organisation to ensure the number fits with its ability to support them.
HR, he says, needs to talk to the business about providing the managers and support for graduate training, and find the optimum intake size.
Budget per head - the median training and development budget per graduate, per year, is $4,400, Mackenzie says.
Taking into account that the figure includes technical qualifications - such as a CPA or engineering qualification, "which aren't cheap" - that doesn't necessarily leave a lot for soft skill development, he says.
He notes that according to figures from the Australian Association of Graduate Employers, 79 per cent of grads choose their employer for the training and development it offers, but only 42 per cent are happy with their current program.
Management support - One of best indicators of the level of support for graduate development is the line manager's reaction when told their graduate needs time off for training, Mackenzie says.
"Is it: 'No you're not, another two days of training? You're always going on training, what are you learning this time?' or is it: 'Fantastic; I know exactly what you're going to be learning, in fact given the work we're doing right now I want you to focus on these three things'."
One of the most effective ways to engage line managers, he says, is to inform them before each course of what the grads will learn, and to have the grads come out with "three things to start doing differently next week".
"It sounds clichéd," Mackenzie says, "but it's the follow-up with line managers that matters. Line managers [should] know part of their measurable responsibilities are to sit down with the grad and say 'what are your three things, what do we need to do to make sure you change those behaviours?'.
"Then before the next workshop, sit down and say 'your next workshop is about relationships and communication, what three things are you going in wanting to learn?'"
Australia "kicking some goals" with grad programs
Mackenzie says his recent trip to the US shows that Australian employers aren't lagging their overseas counterparts on graduate development.
The emphasis in the US is mainly on attracting talented grads, he notes, but Australians are ahead on providing meaningful employment and retaining their graduates.
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