"Future Talent is important for the most obvious but deep of reasons: because the collective flourishing and success of the nation depends on properly mining the talents and interests of the next generation." - Alain de Botton.
After working in graduate recruitment and development for 20 years, at several Financial Services firms that hail their graduates as their future leaders and workforce of tomorrow it is apparent that despite budgets being smaller, there is still a large strategic focus on the attraction and development of university leavers.
Every year or two there was always a 'refresh' to ensure graduates are still the right talent pool and worth the large spend; that their development is relevant and still creates the right skills and behaviours needed for success in the firm. Should the programme be one, two or three years and will the graduates stay for more than one year afterwards?
You may well be having that exact conversation this month. April and May are traditionally the end of the recruitment season and time to reflect on the following year's recruitment and confirm the programme starting in September.
Future-Focused Future Talent?
But what if, rather than just tweaking target universities or subjects studied, you were able to think about future talent more broadly? Are skills that are needed for the next five or 10 years and does your organisation have the necessary capabilities and behaviours to succeed in the future world of work?
This month, Accenture published their living business report in which they state that to be a thriving business in the next five years: "organisations will need to have people who can continuously adapt to client needs, leverage and be comfortable with data and embrace new ideas and technologies."
Nothing about subject specific sikills or 'polish' - the two main reasons many hiring managers cite for the value of hiring graduates into a business. The question that should be asked this year in the graduate season wash up is why graduates at all and what are my other options if not?
Because now there is another option: hiring school leavers into your own tailored Apprenticeship programmes.
Degrees of Evolution
Yes, this is a longer play. Apprenticeship programmes can be up to four years rather than the average two for a graduate programme. However, I see the longer term opportunity as a time to reach and embed those broader, culturally aligned skills and behaviours that will truly create your workforce for tomorrow.
If you have a five-year strategic business plan, then running a four-yeas bespoke early talent programme alongside it seems to be a great way to ensure that the organisation has the capability to deliver on its vision.
I'm not saying that no one will now hire graduates at all, but TMP Worldwide conducted a survey of 136 clients and 96% of them were considering Degree Apprenticeships in some form or other.
Whether that means they will actually maximise the opportunity can't be confirmed, but the conversation is surely worthwhile having. Which roles, present and future, actually NEED a person with a degree to be successful?
Could I grow someone into that role or will that role change in the next few years, so it is better to hire someone who has agility of thought and attitude with transferable skills?
If your focus is on diversity, both of thought and background, I would argue that hiring someone who has bucked the trend of going to university and possibly even had to fight with school and parents to apply for your role will have resilience and focus, behaviours regularly cited in those that succeed in business.
Same Career, Different Route
We need to stop thinking of a school leaver or apprenticeship entry-level programme as the poor cousin to the well-known and beloved graduate programme, created for those who aren't good enough or rich enough for university.
What if this was a brilliant opportunity to find and develop the people and skills of tomorrow for your business. To maximise the true flexibility of learning and expectation. To create an orientation into the world of work and what that means to your organisation. A chance to embed your preferred behaviours and values, foster innovation and constructive challenge in the young minds that have come to learn and be developed.
Having an audit of the behaviours and skills you will need in five years' time and how you are going to get there would be a great way to start the discussion of creating a blended early learning strategy made up of both graduates and school leavers.
Creating programmes that complement each other and using the flexibility of the apprenticeship modular model to even share some content with the graduate population to give a common language of learning and focus on the same skills and behaviours that you will need to develop in both populations.
For example, as part of the school leaver's foundation programme, apprentices could spend time in a developing country working on CSR projects while still gathering evidence to reflect working as a team, managing self, relationship building as well as the obvious, understanding the impact of CSR - all modules in the Level 3 Team Leader standard.
Apprenticeships can be rotational; the coach gives them a consistency of support enabling the line manager to change and creating the ability to evidence learning in different ways.
The lower salary of the employee, school leaver average is £18,000 and graduate average is £30,000. As well as the 13% saving for under 25's exempt from National Insurance, this decreases the emphasis on speeding to work readiness and development time can be in bulk as deep dives in key topics.
Building Your Business From the Inside-Out
Knowing that your organisation has the luxury of time to identify and develop key behaviours and skills leads to a more holistic focus when designing an Apprenticeship, particularly for new talent, and in this broader landscape of development lies the opportunity to be truly creative, bold and specific.
So, it's time to start embracing Apprenticeships, not only to develop your future talent, but to support your workforce and learning culture.