Opinion

Make graduate recruits a priority - or pay dearly

Bright, hungry young team members must be given real responsibilities, or your business risks losing their engagement, loyalty, commitment and value, writes Steve Parker.

Every big meeting needs some ‘grey hair’. Not literally, of course – there isn’t a follicle inspection on the door. But there is an assertion that, for a meeting to go well, it needs to have someone present with significant experience.

There is good reason for this. The more you have experienced, the greater the contribution you can make to proceedings. A calmer head comes from being familiar with a problem that to others may seem insurmountable. Next time you walk into a meeting, look for the youngest member of the team. What are they doing?

Are they contributing? Is their role greater than merely perfecting that art of looking like they are listening and studiously taking notes? Both marketers and agency folk need to be better at converting bright and hungry graduates into dedicated, committed leaders. We need to give them more responsibility earlier.

Retaining young talent is vital. No one will be a bigger advocate for your brand

Otherwise, we risk losing talent to emerging creative industries. An entrepreneurial culture is growing in this country, in part fuelled by a population of school- and university-leavers who want to work on their own terms; twentysomethings who value the sense of achievement that comes with working for a fledgling business. They want to be involved, they want to be valued and they want to know their voice will be heard.

Emotionally invested

As work becomes more fluid and we all have several acts to our career, not just one, the idea of leaving the industry to pursue something new is becoming less of a novelty. However, if this departure happens after a couple of years, where does the blame lie – with the graduate or the employer? If a graduate has taken a year of their lives to apply for numerous schemes, haul themselves around the country to do first-round interviews, retain the patience of a saint to get through group interviews and then land the job when the odds are stacked against them, the chances are they’re emotionally invested in making the job work.

For employers who see graduates come into the business every year like clockwork, the emotional investment in making their careers fly is less obvious (besides, of course, the excellent and undervalued people who run the schemes).

We have sleepwalked into a situation where we are getting the very best talent into the industry, spending hundreds of hours assessing thousands of candidates to be sure we have the right fit for our business, and then watching their potential fade in front of us. Training programmes can steal up to two years from people when they could be experiencing work first hand.

First-hand experience essential

You can’t teach the urgency of a product launch in a workshop. The fear of doing everything in your power to deliver a campaign to the highest standard has to be felt to be understood. Getting your hands dirty and having a role with responsibility is the best training there is. No amount of PowerPoint presentations can act as a substitute. It falls on everyone within the business to create this culture.

Getting your hands dirty and having a role with responsibility is the best training there is

We must accept the responsibility of training on the job. We must work harder to devolve responsibility to those who need the experience to grow. We must make time to brief, review, offer feedback and help them improve on their work.

We will all benefit. A high-functioning graduate intake leads to a high-functioning business as a whole. Ensuring young talent remains in a business is vital. No one will be a bigger advocate of your brand than the person for whom it was their first job. No one will be more loyal.

Next time you are in a meeting, look for the graduate in the room. Are they engaged? Do they have something to do other than perfect their ‘I’m listening’ face? If your team doesn’t have a hungry and committed young grad, I’d doubt you have an ideal line-up. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who thinks you’ll never win anything with kids.

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