Reel them in fast

Amidst the reality of an ageing workforce and increasing competition for remaining workers, businesses will need to develop strategic approaches to the early career development and retention of younger workers, especially fresh graduates. HRM finds out more

More and more employers are looking to “hook” graduates much earlier in their careers.

According to a report by High Fliers Research, The Graduate Market in 2014, the proportion of new UK graduates recruited directly through employers’ work experience programmes jumped from 26% in 2010 to a record 37% in 2014.

While employers are indeed looking at attracting fresh talent as early as possible, helping them develop viable careers and retaining them over the long term can be a challenge.

According to a survey by Robert Half, 43% of employers worldwide found Generation Y the most difficult to retain. The corresponding figure for respondents in Singapore was an above-average 59% – the second-highest (just behind Chile’s), out of the 15 countries surveyed.

When asked why Generation Y employees were difficult to retain, employers pointed to the higher expectations harboured by that demographic.

Eighty per cent of employers in Singapore believe Generation Y employees have “high expectations for career advancement”, while 75% say they “want more remuneration than they are worth”, the survey found.
Engaging them early

Fresh graduates can be just as diligent and competent as Generation X or even Baby Boomer staff. With a clear career path ahead of them, many do stay on with their employers for the longer term.

Enterprise Holdings – the largest car rental company in the world – owns and operates National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car as well as its flagship Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand.

The company, headquartered in Clayton, Missouri in the US, hires college graduates to join its Enterprise Rent-A-Car management training (MT) programme.

Nearly all of the company’s senior leadership team, including the President and CEO, started out in the management training programme.

For instance, James Davis, a Millennial hired in the MT programme at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, quickly moved up as a training and development specialist in Southern California.

He noticed concerns that the training programmes were not as consistent as they could have been. In 2010, he put together a 60-day new hire survey letting new hires give feedback on how their training compares with what was promised.

The company has since added a formal mentoring programme into the mix. New hire retention increased about three or four per cent and retention of assistant managers climbed about nine per cent in 2012, according to Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition for Enterprise Holdings and past-president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Avery Dennison, an international manufacturer and distributor of labelling and packaging materials, invests heavily in fresh graduates as well.

Through the company’s early career development programmes, Avery Dennison makes a long-term commitment to prepare today’s fresh graduates to be future leaders of the organisation and industry as a whole.

One of the programmes is Global Organisational Leadership Development (GOLD), a two-year rotational, multi-functional, leadership development programme that accelerates careers and continuously develops talent at the company.

GOLD Associates learn and train in two cross-functional business rotations, chosen based on each graduate’s background, skills and passions, along with the needs of the business.

Within two 12-month rotations, GOLD Associates complete:
•        Work assignments in different functions and locations throughout North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Europe
•        A three-week programme of intensive leadership development and finance training, with hands-on experience at one of the company’s manufacturing sites
•        A highly interactive week-long training focused on communication, advanced leadership development, and rapid problem solving

GOLD Associates also develop a network of mentors and peers to truly jump start their careers.

Keep that employee close
The “Right of First Conversation” can help dramatically improve an employer-employee relationship.
Picture this: If an employee decides they want to explore other career options, he or she should commit to talking with their current manager first, so that the company has the opportunity to define a more appealing job or role.
“This doesn’t mean that the employee informs her manager every time she receives a call from a headhunter – this kind of disclosure would be onerous for both employee and manager,” says Ben Casnocha, co-author of the new book, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, with Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh. “Rather, the employee should initiate a conversation when they are seriously considering alternate job offers or career paths.”
Similarly, the employee should also approach the manager if they feel strongly that their current tour of duty no longer fits, and that without a change, they would feel obligated to start looking for another employer.
“As with other aspects of the employer-employee alliance, the Right of First Conversation isn’t a binding legal contract,” says Casnocha. “It’s an understanding between manager and employee that carries moral weight if violated.”
Because the employer typically holds the power in the relationship, it’s up to the company to take the first step towards building the necessary trust. Managers need to say they won’t fire people for talking honestly about their career goals, and truly mean it.
Once employees believe that the company will live up to those words, managers can point out the benefits to the employee of granting them the Right of First Conversation.
First, an employee can benefit from frank career advice from a manager on specific industry opportunities. “In a high trust relationship, a manager will not reactively denigrate competitors or ‘say anything’ to keep an employee,” says Casnocha.
Second, perhaps the current company can upgrade the quality of the employee’s existing role. “An employee who provides advance notice allows the company the time necessary to explore and develop more possible options and offers,” says Casnocha. “If the company has weeks to match or exceed an offer from a rival, it has a much better chance of pulling together a counter than if it only had twenty-four hours to respond.”
Finally, even if the company can’t present a compelling counter or the employee chooses to switch firms, the Right of First Conversation helps preserve a longer-term relationship. “The split can be made amicably, and on a timetable that works for both parties, honouring the mutual obligations and investment they have made in each other,” Casnocha explains.
Question to ask yourself:
As a manager, would you rather manage a planned separation from an employee who has completed their final tour of duty? Or would you rather scramble to perform damage control on a sudden departure?


Case study
SMRT Corporation
With the Land Transport Authority (LTA) Masterplan to expand the rapid transit network across Singapore, the push to attract, develop and retain a highly professional and competent workforce has become critical for any organisation operating in the transport space.
“For SMRT, fresh graduates are a critical talent group,” says Madelene Lee, Director – Human Capital management, SMRT Corporation Limited. “Engaging our talents at the onset of their careers means that we have a strategic advantage in nurturing their professional capabilities, but also in shaping their values to be aligned with SMRT’s service and people-centric culture and ethos.”
Fresh graduates on the Engineering track typically start off in rail maintenance and rail operations, while those on the Management track take on corporate functions such as marketing, HR and finance. Under the mentorship of experienced professionals, graduates are groomed in engineering fundamentals of rail transport and exposed to ground operations issues.
SMRT has been running its graduate development programme since 2008. The SMRT Engineering and Management Associate Programme is grounded on the “Triple E” development framework. “This is a holistic set of development platforms: Education, Exposure and Experience. This aims to grow our graduates in their leadership capability, broaden their perspectives and deepen their domain expertise,” Lee explains.
The development programme comprises of several building blocks: organisational awareness, personal effectiveness, and functional expertise. Through intensive business unit sharing, job rotations and cross-functional projects, executives gain an understanding of how they contribute to SMRT’s success, their challenges and future plans.
Each individual is provided with a career development plan that charts out a customised career path to meet their individual aspirations while meeting organisational needs. This is part of the larger employee value proposition framework that looks at the entire HR value chain from identifying, developing, progressing, rewarding and engaging employees.
“In addition, supervisors and senior management play a central role in shaping and grooming our young talents,” Lee says. “As supervisors and mentors, our leaders take personal responsibility for role modelling our values, acting as sounding boards, challenging and broadening perspectives, thereby facilitating the journey of building an enterprise mind-set.”
SMRT began its graduate development programme in 2008, and received more than 1,000 applications during its most recent recruitment exercise. Out of these, 15 to 20 were selected to participate in the Engineering and Management Associate Programme, which has a retention rate of over 80% over the past two years. “In addition to the programme, we also conduct on-going recruitment for fresh graduates who are deployed straight to the job,” says Lee.
Non-graduate staff who join SMRT at entry-level positions are not forgotten either. If they perform well and acquire the relevant competencies and skills through SMRT’s structured training programmes, they too can look forward to being promoted to executive and manager levels. The additional supervisory grade tiers of Supervisory grades in the new progressive competency-based career scheme serve as progression pathways that point promising supervisory staff to managerial roles.
“For SMRT, continual engagement and customised development by supervisors and senior management is a key retention strategy to ensure that our talents are professionally, proud and engaged, regardless of whether they are a part of the graduate development programme,” she notes.
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