Just-released findings of the Accenture 2014 College Graduate Employment Survey offer good news and bad news for employers of entry-level talent. First the bad news: most of those employers aren’t doing much to provide their new hires with the training and support they need to get their careers off to a strong start. More than half (52 percent) of respondents who graduated in 2012 and 2013 and managed to find jobs tell us they did not receive any formal training in those positions.
The good news is that, as young employees increasingly value career-relevant skills, and as awareness spreads more quickly of which employers provide good development training, there is a new opportunity for some employers to shine. By building a distinctive program for training new hires, and getting the word out about it, an organization today can gain an edge in the competition for top talent.
Why would it be that so many employers fail to provide formal training? There are all kinds of reasons. Training can be expensive and, as with many investments in highly mobile workers, the ROI is not always clear. In a time of high unemployment, it might be tempting to place the whole burden on employees to gain the skills they need, and quickly replace those who don’t. Some managers might even believe the best test of talent is to put people into unfamiliar settings and see if they can figure things out for themselves.
But bringing on new hires with the assumption that some will wash out is hardly an efficient – or responsible – way to build a great team. Usually, grads arrive in workplaces with current technical knowledge they are eager to apply, but have a lot to learn about other aspects of succeeding in their new organizations. (This is why so many first jobs feature that seeming paradox by which new employees feel unchallenged by their tasks, while their managers perceive them to be overwhelmed by the responsibilities and professional demands of the “real world.”) Employers should recognize that there are certain skills that college graduates don’t already have when they walk through the door, that are readily trainable.
Graduates themselves are increasingly attuned to the value of work-relevant training. For example, compared with past years of the survey, we find the percentage of students choosing majors based on work prospects rising substantially (75 percent of 2014 graduates say they took into account the availability of jobs in their field before deciding their major, compared to 70 percent of 2013 graduates and 65 percent of 2012 graduates). Expect the best of them also to consider the availability of training as they choose among competing job offers. Indeed, eight out of 10 graduating seniors told us that they expect formal training from their employers.
Of course, the content of entry-level training matters, too. Even employers with programs in place may need to rethink what they are designed to teach and how well they are actually serving new employees. In broad terms, you should consider adding training to:
- Put key productivity tools in their hands. Most recent grads are quick to embrace solutions that allow them to work remotely – many of which involve industry-specific software they have not encountered in school. Recognize that they do not want to be constrained by the walls of the office, and become more valuable when they can work more autonomously, but that they need detailed training to be able to do their jobs on-the-go.
- Build on what they already know. Take the example of social media. Given that millennial employees are truly digital natives, you might not assume – and neither will they – that you have anything to teach them about it. But they do need to be coached on what the company expects of them as its “brand ambassadors,” and now not to run afoul of communications policies.
- Fill in the bigger picture. Even the greenest hire performing the most clearly defined task will do it better if she understands the business of your business. Training people early to see how their work fits into the larger scheme will lead to greater collaboration, more sharing of ideas, and deeper commitment to the mission of the organization.
- Lay the groundwork for future contributions. Here, a good example might be early training in data analysis and visualization. Eventually, every profession will be touched by Big Data and the need to glean insights from consumer, customer, and employee behavior. If there is a future area of strength you know the business will need in general, plant the seeds in entry-level training, whether a trainee’s first job requires it or not.
By improving the processes for cultivating your newest and least experienced workers, you can remove much of the risk in your talent pipeline. Currently, nearly half of those who graduated within the last two years (46 percent) say they consider themselves “underemployed” and working in jobs that do not require their college degree, and more than half (56 percent) report they do not expect to stay at their first job more than two years – or that they have already left their first job. Such attrition represents an unnecessary setback for the employers who will have to go through the expensive process of finding and attracting promising young talent again. To “future proof” your business, you need to fill and maintain a pipeline of people steadily gaining experience and advancing toward leadership roles.
Finally, if you do invest to make your training of new hires better than average, be sure to figure that into your discussions with candidates. For top candidates, a company offering a strong talent development program and showing real dedication to new hires’ career advancement is very positively differentiated.
Emphasize your commitment to training in your corporate social media activity, too – and pay attention to how it is being talked about. If leaving new employees to sink or swim was ever a good option, it surely isn’t now in an age when new grads communicate their experience so richly and transparently to their networks. Neglect the training they need and want, and the word will get around quickly.
By David Smith – HBR