Cathy Hayward: A balancing act

From July to September 2017, there were 14,000,000 graduates in the UK alone. How can we explore new ways to attract graduate talent in 2018?

Thanks to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and the buzz surrounding it, there seems to be a renewed focus on the benefits of vocational training programmes. Many organisations are exploring new ways to lure in talent and entry level or under/post graduate schemes are a big part of that endeavour. A business should constantly be trying to better its offering by bringing in new people and trialing new ways of working. With an influx of fresh blood comes new ideas – and hiring an eclectic mix of individuals, all of whom think in different ways, can help a company evolve over time.

Sometimes the best, most original ideas come from those who are new to an industry, who actually haven’t had years of experience in a certain environment. Those on the periphery can sometimes see more that those within the confines of their specialism. So, it can be incredibly beneficial to employ school leavers, apprenticeships, graduates – as a diverse workforce will usually result in a greater level of insight, experience and expertise.

In addition, offering a graduate or entry level recruitment path means you’re giving back to the community and keeping the wheel turning. Companies that go above and beyond to employ candidates that have little or no experience in a certain field are essentially providing a starting point for a new journey, which is a great way to excite, inspire, enthuse and energise.

From July to September 2017, there were 14,000,000 graduates in the UK alone. According to a recent government report, those graduates had a higher chance of securing full time employment, than those without a degree. Perhaps this is partly thanks to the fantastic opportunities on offer for under and post-graduates. As more employers take the plunge to invest time and effort into creating apprenticeship programmes, graduates around the country are reaping the benefits of attaining real experience of working life. The under/post graduate can gain sector experience, combining on-the-job learning while contributing to an organisation’s success; and by adding a fresh pair of eyes, the employer can encourage new ways of thinking in the team.

Certain careers are notoriously difficult to get into, such as journalism, design, and media production, and a graduate could have an impressive academic record but if they haven’t had any work experience then it can be very difficult to secure a job for the first time. There was once a time when employers, if given the choice, would choose CVs from Oxbridge candidates sporting the best grades; these days, employers are increasingly looking for a combination of education and practical work experience, not to mention attitude and aptitude. Individuals that invest in vocational and academic learning before entering the world of work are more likely to outshine their peers. And in some cases, experience trumps academic merit. Relying on grades alone is no longer enough; not if job hunters want to set themselves apart.

We took on an intern for six weeks two summers ago, who then worked her way up to becoming an account executive, blowing us away with her talent for writing. This role then helped her develop her skills in PR and in journalism, which has now seen her move to a leading design magazine. Last year, we also hired a year-long placement student for the first time who’s actually going to stay with us longer than planned, because he loves it here so much – he’s forsaking his summer holidays before returning to his third year of uni in order to continue learning.

From our experience, if you’re going to bring in an apprentice, intern, or run graduate programmes, there are obvious challenges and hurdles to overcome; and the key to success for both parties is balance. Our clients consider us to be trusted partners who work as an extension of the team to develop, implement and run their PR and communications strategies. We’re specialists, not generalists, and that level of expertise only comes with time; so obviously, we wouldn’t expect our apprentices to drive those meetings or come up with the concepts! That said, we believe that, regardless of level, every member of the team contributes to the overall success of the business. If there’s an opportunity to get involved with a whole host of different tasks, all with varying levels of responsibility, then as an employer, you have to support that. We always ensure that we grant an element of ownership for our entry-level staff; it’s the only way to learn how to be accountable.

For instance, our placement student manages our internal PR, with guidance from senior leadership members. This has been a fantastic experience for him to learn, develop, and contribute back to the company – so it’s a win-win for all. As well as this, when there is an opportunity to utilise his production skills from university, we actively encourage it. For example, making a video diary of our team trip to Lisbon, taking new casual headshots for the company, and managing our blog. So, regardless of someone’s role in the company, we very much believe it’s all about equal balance. And the same for pay; it has to reflect the level they’re coming in at, obviously, but it’s also about being fair and offering your staff a good quality of life, and ongoing support and career development opportunities.

I, personally, have undertaken several work experience opportunities throughout my career, and I actively encourage everyone around me to do so as well. My 15-year-old son, for example, volunteers in our office a couple of hours a week, to get the experience and familiarise himself with the work environment. I was 22 before I first stepped foot in an office, and it was an incredibly daunting prospect. And that’s why I support and encourage any form of work experience possible at Magenta. Be realistic, have a clear plan and structure in place, and keep the role engaging, and both parties will see phenomenal benefits. The key is to treat everyone equally, as you would like to be treated.

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