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How to create a successful graduate scheme

Many leading UK employers run graduate schemes across all sectors, this article will explore what the benefits are, what makes a sucessful graduate program and how companies can strengthen their position in attracting the best talent via graduate programmes.


What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is a structured training programme that an employer uses to attract future leaders of their organisation.

Graduate programmes, which usually last between one and two years (although they can be longer), are often available in a number of specialisms – or streams as they’re known – ranging from marketing, finance, HR, retail to law and management among others.


How does a graduate scheme work?

Graduate schemes are structured training with responsibility from the outset and with graduates gaining real responsibility, building key skills in their chosen profession.

Schemes are generally oversubscribed each year, with places limited – especially those offered by high profile companies in major industries.

High Fliers published a report, The Graduate Market in 2018, which revealed that the most generous payers in 2018 – from The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers – are investment banks, law firms and oil and energy companies. At least a sixth of places on the top graduate programmes now offer starting salaries of more than £40,000, with nine of the UK’s best-known graduate recruiters paying wages of at least £45,000 for their 2018 intake.

Graduates can jump-start their careers through dedicated schemes and have the opportunity to gain greater responsibility, while also building a firm base of contacts.

graduates celebrating


What is expected of a graduate trainee?

Real flexibility is needed as the scheme may be focused on a specific job role or split into specific placements, working across various business functions, teams and possibly locations.

Commitment for the duration of the scheme will be required and this will usually be for two years although the contact will be based on a normal employment contract and will have a notice period if the Graduate changed their mind about the role.


Where do the top Graduates come from?

The ten universities most-often targeted by the UK’s top graduate employers in 2017- 2018 are Manchester, Birmingham, Warwick, Bristol, University College London, Cambridge, Leeds, Nottingham, Oxford and Durham.

Graduate employers use a variety of campus recruitment presentations, local careers fairs, skills training events, promotions through university careers services, online advertising and social media to attract up and coming talent.


How to create a successful graduate scheme for your business

Graduates who apply to schemes do so because they want a career, and don’t want to fall into a job that may not offer a defined career path. Some may select companies which offer the best paying scheme, however many graduates seek out programmes which offer long-term potential within the company and training in different areas.

Employers that want to hire top graduates need to illustrate to potential candidates what the scheme offers, plan for their long-term development and how this differentiates from other graduate opportunities.

Successful graduate recruiters make use of social media, university recruitment presentations, skills training events and recruitment apps will less focus on career sector guides, local guides and student newspapers.

Use your website to attract potential graduates and bear in mind the power of social media and digital marketing. A graduate page outlining your graduate scheme and testimonials from previous graduates is a great way of encouraging top graduates to apply.

graduate trainee being congratulated


Benefits of graduate schemes for employers

Graduates offer a wide range of benefits to companies looking to nurture and shape their talent. With graduates in every department of the company, it allows them to provide feedback and suggestions on which processes are working, what may need changing and how skills can transfer across departments to benefit the wider company.

Graduates provide raw talent which can be moulded into targeted and focused employees who can make a long-term contribution to the development of the company.


What can graduates offer a tech organisation?

The UK’s tech sector is growing and it has become a competitive market where companies are facing a greater challenge to attract the right tech talent.

Graduates passionate about a career in technology are firmly focused on the right companies. With visions of office slides, free meals and exceptional benefits, inspired by companies like Google and Facebook, competition for roles at more recognisable brands getting fiercer by the year. Graduates are looking at a move to technology as an exciting alternative to the traditional rat race.

Graduates that want to work in technology are prepared to work in an agile, start-up environment where there is less time to manage new arrivals and more focus on results. Red tape and office bureaucracy can be kept to a minimum, so strong performance from graduates is likely to result in immediately increased responsibility, allowing employees to advance at their own rate. There is a culture of being part of something big often with exposure to founders in smaller start-ups, so graduates are inclined to seize golden opportunities offering a dynamic, energetic and innovative approach.


Why employer and university partnerships attract the best graduates

Recruiting the best graduate talent is crucial for companies and as graduate expectations of the workplace shift to focus on wellbeing and finding a cultural match, brands cannot rely on advertising alone to attract top graduates. The cost of undergraduate degrees has risen to £9,250 a year, so universities are seeking to prove their worth to students by forging strong relationships with graduate employers.

University marketing departments are focused on strategies that build strong employer branding partnerships which sees brands working with universities on targeted projects to attract fresh talent in areas where the business might have a skills shortage.

Opting for partnerships helps universities create richer experiences for students and allows potential employers to tell brand stories could also help them find their next CEO from the graduates starting their career journey.  Employers should look to build their reputation with graduates while they are still studying not just at the point of choosing a graduate scheme.

NICOLA MONGON is the MD of Spotlight Recruitment, the leading marketing recruitment agency in the UK. You can reach them on 020 3008 4254 or