All aboard the onboarding express

Graduates today enter the workforce with high expectations. HRM investigates how companies are devising onboarding programmes to keep them happy and settled into their new roles.

Picture this scenario.

You are a fresh graduate and after scraping through several nerve-wrecking interviews and finally convincing your would-be employers you are the one for the job, you have been offered the post.

You gratefully accept the job and turn up at your first day of work, filled with optimism and excitement at the prospect of finally embarking into the working world.

However, what appeared to be your big break quickly begins to turn sour, with an ineffective company onboarding programme coupled with unclear instructions and a lack of support from supervisors – all culminating in a miserable maiden working experience.

You then decide that enough is enough, and you quit: a lost opportunity for both yourself and the organisation which would have been banking on a far longer tenure.

Companies from Hong Kong may be able to attest to this.

According to the jobsDB Q2 2013 Hiring Index in that market, among firms who recruited fresh graduates in the past three years, approximately half of them (48%) possessed a turnover rate of 50% or more for this class of recruit.

Some 41% of those organisations cited that the average tenure of graduate recruits was just one to two years, while 34% said the average was between three and 12 months.

Meanwhile, a 2013 Onboarding Trends Report found that a combined 71% of its survey respondents were presently in the midst of updating their onboarding programmes (see: boxout).

Even more surprisingly, the Onboarding 2013: A New Look At New Hires report by Aberdeen Group revealed that only 37% of organisations had invested in strategic onboarding that lasted more than two years (see: boxout)
On the ball with onboarding
While onboarding programmes are important in enabling new employees to bed in and adjust to their own job scope and company’s operational structure, they are absolutely imperative for fresh graduate recruits, says Leslie Hayward, Shell’s Vice President of HR (Singapore and Asia-Oceania Operations).

“Onboarding programmes are important to help fresh graduates gain the required information, network, and do the role successfully, especially since they are new to the organisation and the working world,” says Hayward.

As a global conglomerate, it is no surprise that Shell boasts a rigorous onboarding programme for graduates. It receives around 500,000 applications annually. Of these, it recruits just 1,200. In Singapore, Shell hires between 30 and 40 graduates each year.

The Shell Graduate Programme provides an industry-leading development framework for graduates, Hayward says, and is open to graduating students or anyone with less than three years’ working experience.

The company’s onboarding programme – 12 Global Onboarding Steps – kicks off even before the graduate joins the company, Hayward reveals.

First, the supervisor emails each new recruit basic information needed for their first day at work, and outlines key milestones to be covered in the first 12 months, including establishing goals and identifying development and training needs.

The line manager also explains the Shell Graduate Programme in detail and discusses how to develop their professional and functional competencies.

All Shell graduate hires also attend Shell Life, a five-month leadership development programme.

This involves a two-month virtual training, five days of face-to-face training, and finally a three-month in-role embedded position.

“Our fresh graduates take on substantial full-time jobs from day one,” says Hayward.

“A significant part of learning and development comes on the job and a structured onboarding is critical to bringing them up to speed quickly.”

Shell’s effusive commitment to graduate onboarding programmes is equally matched by Microsoft.

“Onboarding programmes are essential to help fresh graduates transition from the world of academics to the world of business,” says Anna Fourie, Regional University Staffing Consultant, Microsoft Asia-Pacific.

Microsoft’s onboarding structure begins with graduate hirers joining the Microsoft Academy of College Hires (MACH), says Fourie.

The Microsoft Academy of College Hires is for undergraduate, Masters and MBA-level hires.

The undergraduates and Masters programme runs for two years, while the MBA programme is for 18 months. Both MACH programmes run worldwide and are designed for graduates joining Microsoft’s sales, marketing and services group.

The programme is focused on the development of technical knowledge as well as the development of “soft skills”, including leadership, team work, development of personal brand, and career guidance.

“Critical to the success of the MACH onboarding programme is the opportunity for our graduates to develop a network which provides them with a supportive community as they grow and develop over the coming years,” says Fourie.

“Our graduate hires receive Orientation Training, Role Guides and attend trainings as part of the MACH community to help them develop their personal networks for success.”

The onboarding programme is split into three core sections.

During the first seven months, graduates focus on learning about the organisation, its customers, and how it works to deliver Microsoft’s commitment in today’s “mobile-first; cloud-first” world.

The next nine months are focused on understanding each individual’s own unique work style and what they can contribute to the team in order to drive impact in their business areas.

During the final stages of the graduate onboarding programme, training is focused on driving performance and impact as well as managing perceptions, leading, and influencing.

“Our focus is on providing our graduates with the best platform for success and a structured onboarding programme will help them ramp quickly in their roles and become valued contributors,” says Fourie.

In addition, the role of the Microsoft “community” is deemed to be extremely vital for the success of a new hire.

“Each MACH hire is assigned a buddy and a mentor on top of access to the global MACH community,” adds Fourie.

Microsoft’s thorough and layered approach to onboarding programmes for graduates is already paying dividends.

“We are glad to note that our graduate hires have lower attrition rates than is commonly experienced in the industry,” says Fourie.
DBS gets personal
Another organisation that prides itself on formulating sound and comprehensive onboarding programmes for its graduate recruits is DBS Bank.

DBS hires more than 150 new graduates for entry-level roles each year. In 2013, it received close to 7,000 applications for the Management Associate and Graduate Associate Programmes.

“At DBS, we welcome our new graduates with an orientation programme, First Day@DBS,” says Laurence Smith, Managing Director, Group Head of Learning and Talent Development at DBS Bank.

At this session, new graduates are inducted into the DBS family by learning about the bank’s history, vision, strategy and policies.

After the session, they get to meet senior managers and hear about the various departments and functions within the bank. Mentors and buddies are also introduced to the new graduates to initiate them into the company on a more personal level.

According to Smith, new graduates then undergo rigorous training that is designed to sharpen their technical and personal effectiveness skills, and build up their knowledge on the banking and finance industry before they commence their job rotations.

Before embarking on these, the Programme Manager will also engage new graduates in a conversation to check on their well-being, performance and career aspirations. Department managers will also provide feedback on their performance and discuss goals for the first year.

After the first rotation, which ranges from seven to 11 months depending on the programme structure, new graduates are given a performance review conducted by their managers.

This is to enable the new graduates to know whether they are on the right track, and to allow them to fine-tune their approach to their new roles as necessary.

They also receive performance reviews for each of the subsequent rotations. “Buddies” are encouraged to check in regularly with the new graduates to offer personal assistance where required.

Smith says DBS Bank believes that a successful onboarding programme can help to improve the retention rates of new graduates.

“Our own internal data shows a stronger retention rate and quicker progression as a result of this long term investment in our talents.”
Getting stuck in
According to Hayward, the Shell Graduate Programme provides a consistent and global standard for early career development and assessment of graduates.

“Graduates appreciate the opportunities for continuous learning through training courses, accreditation, and on-the-job learning through real challenges and responsibilities from the first role undertaken in the company,” says Hayward.

“What many graduates and staff find attractive is that they get the opportunity to be involved in a diverse range of challenging projects, working with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.”

For example in Singapore, engineering graduates can work at the Pulau Bukom Manufacturing Site (Shell’s largest wholly-owned refinery) or the petrochemicals complex on Jurong Island.

Singapore is also the global headquarters of two of Shell’s businesses – Integrated Gas and Global Commercial – and the regional hub for its Upstream Exploration and Production activities, and the Downstream Trading and Chemicals businesses.

Hayward explains that employee retention and talent management are key considerations of the design of a good graduate and onboarding programme.

“A comprehensive talent development programme, including strong onboarding, continues to be a competitive advantage to attract, recruit and retain top graduate talent,” he adds.

“Shell has always had a structured approach to onboarding as we recognise that good onboarding is critical to successfully integrate a new hire into the organisation.”
Immersing in the experience
To maintain the pipeline of talented employees, DBS entices bright prospects at an early stage in their careers, via the highly sought-after Management Associate Programme, says Smith.

“As part of the programme, our Management Associates and Graduates Associates are given extensive learning and development opportunities, and will undergo rotations that will give them exposure to different businesses and develop a breadth of knowledge,” he says.

In addition, a mentoring and buddy system also provides a support system to assist in helping the new Graduate Associates.

Graduates have a dedicated full-time Programme Manager that manages them during the programme and is able to quickly ascertain their strengths and development areas, and provide guidance.

According to Smith, graduates are also encouraged to sign up for learning and development programmes carried out by the DBS Academy, the bank’s in-house training arm.

“The academy creates integrated solutions which support collaboration and learning across the bank,” says Smith.

“They are designed to support employees’ career progression and new graduates can develop their skills and capabilities by attending orientation programmes and role-specific induction courses.”

In tandem with the bank’s plethora of onboarding expertise and resources, personalised learning roadmaps also enable graduates to assess their individual career progression as well as their development opportunities.

Bleak outlook of onboarding
The 2013 Onboarding Trends Report shed some telling information on the state of onboarding programmes in the corporate world.

According to the report:
  • The majority of respondents (49%) were presently updating their onboarding programmes
  • 22% continually update their programmes
  • 19% updated their programmes within the previous two years
  • And for 10% of respondents, it had been more than three years since their onboarding programme had been updated
  • More than 73% of respondents revealed that the biggest reasons behind powering change to their onboarding programmes was to speed up new employees’ performance and to improve employee retention and loyalty
  • The majority of respondents hinted that HR (87%) and Learning and Development (72%) departments were most involved in crafting and updating the onboarding programmes.


Renewed effort with onboarding
The Onboarding 2013: A New Look At New Hires report by the Aberdeen Group deduced the key drivers for onboarding among participating organisations. The report showed that:
  • 68% of respondent organisations drove onboarding to get new employees more productive quickly
  • 67% drove onboarding for better employee engagement
  • 51% pushed for onboarding for better employee retention
  • 49% pushed for onboarding for better assimilation of new hires
Among the top pressures for onboarding were:
  • The need to better engage with employees (50% of respondents cited this)
  • Pressure to meet company’s growth objectives (49%)
  • The shortage of required skills (44%)
The study involved 230 organisations and was conducted in January and February last year.


Top three onboarding mistakes
An online article from eLearning Industry has highlighted the three biggest mistakes firms make when devising their own onboarding programmes:
  1. Mistake number one: Overloading
Trying to force through copious amount of company information in one day is not only over-ambitious but also ineffective. When new workers are overwhelmed with information ranging from HR policies, to roles and responsibilities and to company values, a lot of pressure is placed on them.
  1. Mistake number two: Onboarding in a day
Programmes that fail to continue onboarding training beyond a number of workshops can impede the workers’ chances of settling properly within the company. An employee may not be able to inculcate everything learnt from the workshop, and if there is insufficient support after the workshops, it can result in more errors and longer time taken for productivity.
  1. Mistake number three: A one-size-fits-all approach
While a one-size-fits-all approach seems to be the most cost-effective manner of transferring knowledge to new workers, it can be a huge mistake when the diversity of new recruits is not factored in. Different people learn differently and ensuring that they learn according to their needs will reap more rewards in the long run.
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