Iain Dobson, Senior HR Business Partner at Subsea 7, discusses strategic graduate recruitment and resilience in the world of HR.

As part of the Symposium Graduate Recruitment & Development Forum I will speak about my own experiences of running graduate recruitment campaigns and also the on-boarding and onward development of those graduates.

Having been involved in both large scale (100+) and let’s say much more bespoke (<5) recruitment campaigns, I can honestly say that my own personal preference and source of more professional interest, comes from working at the smaller end of the scale.

Why do I say this? Well let’s start with the bigger question- why do you want to hire graduates in the first place?

The answer to this isn’t always so clear. Some companies still rely on contingency recruitment to fill their vacancies. Growing your own talent, can be a big step to take. So why do it? I ask people I meet from other companies this question, and have a variety of responses;

1/ Because we should hire and develop graduates for the bigger picture (moral obligation, for the good of the country, etc)

2/ Because we have a demographic “gap”, because we have identified in our xx industry (*insert industry name, as required) has a lack of succession at a lower level and no one ready to step into the shoes of the ageing workforce when they retire and because we lack diversity in certain areas

3/ Because we have an immediate need for some less senior workers to do some of the operational work, we need people to take work off the ‘Senior’ people to allow those more time to strategise etc.

4/ Because they represent “cost effective labour”…

All of these reasons have an element of validity and can apply whether you are working on a macro- or micro- level. But it’s a bit further ahead than that- it’s hiring people who will outlast you.

Recruiting a graduate in my view is probably one of the most strategic things you will do. Look at it this way; most people, when asked to define their “strategic responsibility”, talk about things that are 1, 2, or maybe 5 years ahead. Back in 2015, if you went to an HR or other industry event you probably heard someone talking about their 2020 forecast or vision. Proof positive- 5 years ahead is often about as far ahead as people think. But who’s going to lead the company, in 20 years’ time? 30 years’ time?

So, for me, this is the fascinating area. You effectively get to recruit the person who will be leading the very same firm you currently work for, long after you’ve finished. Hopefully, in 20 years’ time, if I’m still working it’ll be under my own steam. My graduates? They’ll be in the thick of their careers, probably leading a division, maybe even higher depending on the opportunities they catch along the way. This is why we do it; to find people, to outlast us, and to go further than us. Hire the best, hire people who are better than you are, and the business will grow.

And for me, specifically when engaging in a smaller scale campaign, the key thing you get to do, the really exciting thing, is engage individually with each of the potential recruits you meet, interview, hire, and onwardly develop. The smaller number of graduates you’re hiring, the more crucial it becomes to make the right choice.

It can be a numbers game. If you hire 100 graduates every year, the chances are there will be some “future leaders” in there, without having to map out each one of the 100 against your company values and career development pathways. I mean no disrespect here; I absolutely see the need and value in large scale campaigns, but the fact is that if you are hiring 4 or 5 people versus 100 or more, you get to (because you need to) understand the future potential of each one of those new recruits. The stakes, you could say, are higher.

Picking the right graduates is a mix of understanding their future technical capability (which can be done for example through psychometric testing) but also more than that, understanding their closeness to your own company culture and values. This is an area people can shy away from, because it’s difficult to quantify. But to me, it’s the thing which needs to be right from the outset. If someone lacks a particular technical capability, the can learn it through training. And anyway, mostly as a graduate their technical capabilities will be untested, unless they’ve spend a period of time doing an industrial internship. But their fit to the company culture, isn’t something which can necessarily be “trained”, and is best judged through face to face selection processes (assessment days, group tasks, for example), using observation and listening skills to determine their suitability against your knowledge of your own internal working practices. This is the fun bit.

These things, taken together, give us Resilience. Corporate resilience is a fascinating area, not wholly embraced yet in industry. In my view it’s the “next big thing” in HR circles (move aside, big data) as we move into a stage of safeguarding our firms or “futureproofing” them against market forces and all number of unseen and unknown obstacles. Having a fully engaged and flexible workforce may protect your business from future fluctuations. Engaging the right people, now, as graduates, will feed this “pipeline” of talent to drive the business forward.

Today, we get to recruit the people who will lead industry long after we’ve retired. That’s the challenge. That’s the reason we do it, and that’s why I find it so rewarding.