Get on their radars

Stiff competition for talent is seeing companies searching out new and creative ways to attract the best candidates. HRM reveals how to get on the radar of today's fresh school leavers

Attracting newly-minted graduates into the fold can be challenge for HR against a buoyant employment landscape. The expectations of candidates today are also rising beyond monetary rewards, with many seeking better work-life balance and job stability, so recruiters need to present a comprehensive and often complex offer.

Fresh graduates today are also more attuned to the world, with more knowledge and information easily accessible via social media. This makes them more aware of the career choices available to them, says Lilian Chew, HR Director at Eastern Health Alliance and Changi General Hospital. “With an increasingly affluent society, most expect good training and development in their career with competitive remuneration to match. Building a good rapport with them is crucial for them to open up and share their honest career aspirations,” she says.

Another common aspiration among fresh graduates is fast growth. “There is an aspiration, especially in Asian countries, to move vertically up the hierarchy,” says Yogita Kaul, International HR Business Partner – Asia-Pacific, BBC Newsgroup.

However, it is also important to manage their expectations, says Valerie Cheong, Head of HR, Linde Gas Singapore. “Some of them have rather unrealistic expectations about moving up the corporate ladder.”

Not every industry falls under the fresh graduate’s typical dream list of jobs. Less favoured or more low-profile industries often face additional challenges in attracting the right talent. The healthcare industry is one such example, says Chew. “We face a global shortage of healthcare professionals and on top of that, we are faced with competition from the more glamorous industries like Banking and Tourism. In addition, with Singaporeans having fewer babies, the pool of fresh graduates continues to decrease each year,” she says.

The complex industrial gas industry is another example. Linde Gas Singapore operates one of the most sophisticated gasifiers in Asia. “A number of our operations require highly skilled personnel to run the plant 24 hours a day. The supply of such skilled engineers and technicians is tight, especially on Jurong Island where we are located,” shares Cheong.
 
Reaching them first
The key to netting the best talent is early engagement. Companies that HRM spoke to revealed they start engaging students as early as possible – often when they are still studying in a junior college or polytechnic.

Changi General Hospital for example, organises regular learning tours and work experience sessions, reaching out to junior colleges and graduating students. In addition to career talks by the hospital’s healthcare professionals, these graduating students are given tours around the hospital and its respective departments to see them at work. “This serves to give graduating students a greater appreciation (of our work), with the hope to entice them to consider a career in healthcare,” says Chew.

Likewise, Linde Gas invites students from tertiary institutions to visit its plant. This gives them a better understanding of the industry and its operations, as well as the career opportunities available. “We also participate in the career talks organised by the local universities, Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore,” says Cheong.

Giving students a taste of working life can go a long way. Local law firm Rajah & Tann conducts annual engagement programmes for students from schools to junior colleagues and up to universities. This includes short attachment stints for school students and structured internship programmes for the undergraduates. The firm also constantly engages with overseas undergraduate student bodies where it links up with potential candidates. “Besides offering attachments and internship programmes, we conduct recruitment drives and sponsorships programmes. Our lawyers also take time to have dialogue sessions with these undergraduates, be it local or overseas,” says Koay Saw Lean, Director of HR, Rajah & Tann.
 
Engage, engage, engage
Fresh graduates often have their attention pulled in a thousand different directions as they enter the job market. Ensuring that your engagement activities are a cut above the rest will lead to more successful outcomes.

And what better way to do that than to hear directly from those in the know? Linde Gas appoints what it calls ‘Linde Ambassadors’ at its career talks to share with students their experience of working at Linde. “These ambassadors could be graduates undergoing our trainee programme or may have just completed the programme, so the students can relate to and identify with them,” says Cheong.

Changi General Hospital offers job shadowing and observation opportunities to selected students, giving them greater insight into the healthcare careers that the hospital provides. “With the support of our Heads of Departments, we also offer temporary jobs to students on a case-by-case basis,” Chew says. “This helps them appreciate better Changi General Hospital’s ‘Learn, Grow, and Play’ environment.”

Mentoring plays an important role at Visa. “We introduce our graduates to their mentors even before they start. The mentors are with them for the full duration they are in our graduate programme, and after they join, we organise bonding activities for each graduate class, and listen to their ideas on how to improve the programme,” says Adele Png, Head, Graduate and Intern programmes, Visa Worldwide.

Keeping your graduate programme current and relevant is key. “We ask graduates for their interests and we take that into consideration when we match them to their rotations. We give them roles that will allow that ‘stretch’ and give them that empowerment and ownership to make a difference at Visa,” says Png.
 
Recruitment channels
Without a doubt, social media scores high on the most effective means to attract young talent. “Students are very connected in this digital age and if you have a strong programme or product, they will tell their friends on Facebook and Twitter – and that will draw students to your portal,” says Png from Visa. “We don’t really spend much on advertising, except through our job portal and campus events once a year. So it is really (only) word of mouth,” she adds.

There is also value in career talks and exhibitions. “In our experience, they are the most effective as they provide the opportunity for face-to-face interaction. They give candidates the opportunity to hear from us first hand and ask questions, and for us to explain more in detail what we do and what we can offer in terms of career development,” says Cheong.

At Changi General Hospital, collaboration with the career centres of various institutions also provides it with an effective channel to reach out to young talents. “We need to have constant dialogue with them to align their aspiration and expectations to that of the organisation,” Chew says.
 

Greater collaboration needed
A US survey by Careerbuilder.com has revealed that 60% of employers are concerned about the costs associated with delays in filling open positions. One in four stated they had experienced losses in revenue as a result. Compromised productivity and work quality as well as a rise in voluntary employee turnover were some of the other repercussions cited in the March survey.

According to the study, one of the biggest opportunities is to get individual companies and colleges and universities talking more to each other. While most academics (96%) agree that their institutions should be asking employers about the skill sets they require, more than half (55%) admitted that this only happens a little or not at all.

Academics are also becoming more sensitive to the realities of the job market. Fifty-four percent of them said that they were adjusting their curriculum based on local demands or shifts among employers. However, the speed of implementation continues to be a hurdle.

The study found that more than half of those changing curriculum (56%) said it would take at least a year to implement those changes, while nearly one in five (18%) said it would likely take three to five years.

 

Great expectations
 
Years of work with their first employer upon graduation:
  1. 51% - expect to work for 2 or 3 years
  2. 33% -expect to work for 5 years or more
 
Most important attributes of an employer:
  1. People attributes
  2. Culture attributes
 
Top three career goals:
  1. To have work/life balance
  2. To be secure or stable in my job
  3. To be dedicated to a cause or to feel that I am serving a greater good
 
Top five employer attributes:
  1. A friendly work environment
  2. High future earnings
  3. Professional training and development
  4. A creative and dynamic work environment
  5. Recognising performance (meritocracy)
 
Source: The Universum Top 100 Ideal Employers 2014 student survey
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