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Elevating early careers programmes in a changing career landscape


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With so much uncertainty around the future of work, many organisations are evolving the way they engage and develop employees at the beginning of their careers. The Career Innovation Company was therefore delighted to host a Virtual Roundtable event on Early Careers programmes in a new format, designed to listen to views from early career professionals themselves, as well from the employer side.

Our provocateurs and contributors included: 

The transition from Higher Education to Employment.

Our first perspective came from Johanne Gilroy, who gave rich insights into young people’s expectations and needs from the work environment – informed by years of experience working with young adults in the Higher Education sector.

Johanne explained that while life is full of transitions, the move from education to employment is a major one for those making this step. How organisations make these employees feel in their early days is critical. Employers that can understand this and respond effectively will enjoy a head start in gaining buy-in, trust and rapport. The major considerations that emerge include:

  • Wellbeing. This is paramount to those in the early stage of their career. Employers can help secure wellbeing through mentoring, training, and peer support networks.
  • EDI and widening participation. A clear sense of belonging is important to new employees. Being able to be their authentic selves and leverage their innate cultural wealth is important in winning their engagement and realising their career potential.
  • Work-life balance. This is key for those entering the workforce for the first time. And work-life balance issues are intertwined with other concerns, including around the cost of living.
  • A lack of work-related experience. Young people, moving from education to employment, feel they need support in a range of areas, including understanding workplace etiquette, how organisations work structurally, clarity around job roles and how they interact with others.
  • Making a difference. Employees want a clear sense that their work makes a difference. While many organisations can talk about what they do and how they do it, far fewer talk compellingly about their wider purpose.

The employee perspective.

Our Early Careers Panel of Simran Gill, Matthew Maidment and Thea Reedman shared their experiences of beginning their careers.

  • Simran Gill, Talent Coordinator at Specsavers, highlighted numerous benefits of her company’s programme, and particularly two sets of six-month rotational placements. She explained how this gave her invaluable experience across different departments and roles. The Specsavers programme also included “Development Fridays,” in which she could communicate freely with colleagues and use the time for personal development. She talked about the “imposter syndrome” that many starting in the workplace can feel, and how this can be overcome with a senior sponsor, building relationships and support from one’s manager.
  • Matthew Maidment, HR apprentice at Anglo American, discussed what had helped him transition to the workplace, how he had thrived and what his career needs were now. He was part of an apprentice cohort that felt able to share their experiences. Matthew also discussed the importance of a clearly structured plan and praised his company’s rotation of his role across teams. This had given him broad exposure to the business and a wider network. Finally, he emphasised how crucial it has been to seek further learning opportunities to expand his personal development e.g. by mentoring partnerships and both receiving and giving candid feedback.
  • Thea Reedman, HR apprentice at Starbucks, explained how line managers must be mindful of the reality that, for those early in their careers, all experiences are their first. She also pointed out that with more young people being diagnosed as neurodiverse or with mental health challenges, there was a need for support in the workplace. Finally, Thea echoed others on the panel by urging companies to recognise the transferability of talent across the organisation and the benefits that this brings for a sense of connection.
  • All 3 reinforced Johanne’s perspective on early workplace experiences – that employers shouldn’t underestimate the need for clarity on workplace etiquette and should offer development of work-related IT skills.

The employer perspective.

Jennifer Clarke, Director Early Careers & Global Talent Partner at Liberty Global, highlighted the ways in which her business was driving its Early Careers strategy. It had four streams for recruitment in this area – apprentices, interns, graduates, and MBAs. In the process, she said, the business had realised it needed to focus more clearly in four ways.

  • Onboarding. Liberty Global provided a 4-week onboarding programme to upskill all graduate hires. They mixed soft skills with hard skills, and functional specific training, with a key focus on building a sense of community for the new arrivals.
  • Mobility. The business promoted and encouraged mobility across its family of brands – and aimed to continue this mobility after the programme was completed.
  • Manager Training. This has been focused on how to manage graduates, understanding generational differences, and understand the expectations of those starting their careers.
  • Retention. The business committed to regular career conversations for programme alumni, to understand personal circumstances, ambitions, and support career moves.

Zuzia Kobos, the Global Program Manager for the “Power+ Graduate Program” at Hitachi Energy described their rotational graduate approach, which consisted of 3 different 6-month assignments for 60 graduates across 7 key markets globally. The Hitachi Energy approach has four key aspects.

  • Goal. To create and develop a Global leadership pathway.
  • Purpose. To make it possible for early talents to explore the organisation and create a foundation for leading roles in the future.
  • Philosophy. To hire for potential, rather than a position, with an accelerated first role.
  • Architecture. To receive proposals for each assignment twice a year from across the business, with more assignments than participants, to offer comfort and a diversity of choice.

The program embeds the belief that employees are the CEO of their own careers, selecting their own assignments and career paths aligned with their capabilities, ambitions and aspirations.

Our thoughts.

What can employers do to ease the transition of those entering the workforce for the first time? One of our core beliefs here at The Career Innovation Company is that an employees’ ability to thrive and perform should be based around the “whole person” – through thinking about personality, values, motivations, and a sense of meaning. Employees should adapt their career proposition to differentiate what they offer to meet the needs and expectations of younger workers.

We know that early career professionals can ‘drop off a cliff’ when they reach the end of a formal careers or certification programme. There’s uncertainty about what’s next for their career journey, plus a feeling of being more alone navigating their career and influencing their own success.

The overall culture that supports careers becomes more important, as it is for anyone navigating their career, so we recommend you explore:

  • Paying fresh attention to your overall career strategy. Is it working for those early in their career while meeting the needs of the business?
  • Setting up employees and managers – or other career supporters – for inspiring career conversations
  • Visibility of opportunity and stretch experiences for all
  • Actively supporting employees to build their network – creating a community
  • Empowering employees from the outset to self-direct their careers though workshops, skills development, and online resources.

You can find out more about our Virtual Roundtables here. And for strategic career support, take a look at our solutions.

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