From university to your company: how ready are graduates?

In my experience, today’s graduates are bright, driven and great fun to have on board. But perhaps not quite as ready as we thought. Apart from the fortunate ones who were able to spend a placement year in industry (which thank goodness is becoming more common), many graduates will previously have had relatively low-paid, short term jobs probably in hospitality or retail. Even the more applied subjects like business studies provide limited exposure to what is actually involved in working for an organisation. For those coming from traditional subjects, the preparation can be zero.

Our graduates will be enthusiastic and eager to learn. The first week or two in their first graduate level employment is the ideal time to provide some foundation learning on how business functions. “But we already do that,” I hear you say. “We provide a company overview; Vision and Values; markets and products and staff benefits.”

All good for inductions of course, although there is a possibility some of that could go right over their heads. My friend’s son was told at an induction session that the company paid generously into an optional pension plan. He and his colleagues had no idea if that was a good thing or even how pensions worked. After I had spent a couple of minutes that evening explaining in very simple terms how funds grow and an annuity can be purchased, he was able to gain significant kudos explaining it to his young colleagues the next day!

This example shows that we can make assumptions about existing knowledge at a very basic level. Will a History graduate have much knowledge of the role of marketing, finance, sales, professional services and operations – even if they achieved a First? How will they know what is acceptable behaviour in the workplace if they have never been there before? What do the terms and acronyms we use every day mean to them?

There is significant benefit in creating an induction programme that includes education on some of the basics of business that will provide context for all they will rapidly learn in their first few months of their employment. Here are some recommendations for short educational sessions.

  • What we are in business to achieve, our responsibilities and who we are accountable to, including company ownership
  • Business culture in our organisation, and how it may differ from customers’ and partners’ business cultures
  • The different functions/departments in a business: what they do and how they interrelate
  • The customer journey from being unaware to being a loyal customer
  • Basic business accounting
  • Business terminology
  • Personal finance: how pensions work; an explanation of the payslip; claiming expenses

This could be Death by PowerPoint, but it doesn’t have to be. There are some very engaging games and exercises for these topics, which make them fun, educational and memorable. I have Tip Sheets for creating engaging exercises  – do contact me if you would like a copy.

One of the best ways of helping graduate entrants to understand business is to run a business simulation game. This not only educates, it also helps the group become fully engaged with the business. It also provides an opportunity to observe their individual behaviour in team situations which will be useful intelligence for their managers and team leaders.

Neville Merritt, Director