Getting the right form of early engagement with students is like trying to score a goal with a rapidly moving target. Each generation of students coming through has some subtly different views on what matters to them, with a trend that shows an increased desire to work at organisations with an ethos which is aligned to their own. But if you hit the target the rewards can be substantial.
A key strategy in effective early engagement therefore is being able to show these students the cultural and work ethos of the company early, ahead of them applying or joining.
It is also apparent that today’s students would always prefer to interact in-person in addition to online channels and that brings its own set of challenges.
Therefore an approach needs to be taken which maximises the impact and breadth of engagement for students whilst managing the resourcing demands. This is where mentoring, in a variety of forms, alongside skills training can be highly effective.
Let’s consider the landscape that today’s young people find themselves in. They are receiving information from a number of key influencers, including parents and teachers or careers advisors. On the plus side, this group are fantastically motivated and are great at encouraging them to explore their career ambitions. However, in this fast changing environment they may not always have the latest information on the pathways and options that are available today, or programs that are being developed for the future. The ongoing diversification of apprenticeship options into sectors and job pathways which previously were exclusively targeting graduates means that more students (and their advisors) are now exploring this as a career pathway and where we are continuing to see positive changes. In particular, the inclusion of degree apprenticeships which enables on the job training combined with university learning is really broadening the appeal to students who previously may not have considered apprenticeships.
So given the landscape and the ambitions of the students, how best to guide and support them? In our experience, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best solution; it needs to be tailored to an identified need. Working closely with schools and colleges to understand what they would like to achieve is key, think of this work as a collective partnership between the employer, the educational institution and the student. Our role as employers is to support and provide guidance and mentoring can provide a good starting point in developing relationships with the students and providing an open channel for communication. In addition to traditional mentoring, individuals can also benefit from broader training programs including those that focus on practical skills, workplace practices, developments in the sector and helping candidates with broader career questions. This can also take the form of career workshops giving training on CVs, interview tips, supporting mock interviews or enabling groups to visit your sites. Organisations may be surprised just how many students you can reach and engage in this way.
The other role for these early information-sharing sessions is to bust myths and pre-conceptions. Take the world of finance, for example, here many students have the perception that everyone is either a trader or an accountant. In the banking industry, as with all sectors, there are a plethora of roles available and good practise instead can be to focus again on the employable skills used in day-to-day roles rather than try to explain the intricacies of these myriad roles.
With the group sessions in place, focus can start to increase to those who have expressed an interest or are considering a career in the industry. Here mentoring can again take different forms, whether that be as part of work experience, which is a key part of a successful pipeline for developing talent, or through other more individual engagements such as having staff members volunteer as mentors. As with all forms of mentoring, there are benefits for the mentor as well as the mentee, so it’s a sound investment.
A final point to consider is being able to track the effectiveness of the mentoring program that is in place. Knowing where an eventual applicant first engaged with you, and being able to see whether that applicant then took advantage of any subsequent engagement opportunities can tell you very easily whether your process is effective. Of course it’s important to constantly review and make necessary adjustments to your approach. As the priorities of our target demographic continue to shift and the market evolves, so must our efforts to engage and attract the future talent which we want.
To hear Philip Paige and a range of other leading early careers professionals speak at our popular early careers event in July, find out more about our programme and tickets here.