The care and feeding of fresh graduates, Part 2: How to manage employees who are new to the workforce
Fresh graduates can be very easy to hire, depending on the industry; they can also be very difficult to retain, also depending on the industry. And with their comparatively lower workplace savvy, they can sometimes present unusual challenges to managers who are more used to handling older, more experienced employees – challenges that have to be addressed in a generation-suitable manner.
What works to ease these young employees into the workplace, get them started on their careers, and most importantly, keep them with the organisation after they've picked up their first year or two of working experience? People Matters asked HR leaders and managers across a variety of industries and company types about their approach to managing fresh graduates and interns. In Part 2 of this 2-part series, we look at how to cater to, and capitalise upon, this group's newness to the workforce. Read part 1 here.
Make sure that they feel like part of the team
It's surprisingly common for fresh graduates, joining the workforce for the first time, to be highly self-conscious. They may be reluctant to speak up in a group setting, and they may even question their capability to keep up with the rest of an older and more experienced team. Managers need to provide them with support and reassurance, whether in the form of regular feedback or actively including them in team discussions and helping them to develop a good relationship with team members.
Managers should also be prepared to spend more time settling them in, says Cecilia Yeoh, Vice President of Human Resource, PSB Academy; and the assimilation process may involve team members and managers themselves stepping out of their comfort zone. “Helping new hires assimilate into the culture and organisation can also mean allowing them to share their knowledge, views, and opinions – be it industry trends or recommendations for the company – with the rest of the company. It encourages both the managers and new hires to unlearn and relearn from each other, which facilitates creative thinking and develops confidence.”
Describing the extra hand-holding and more forgiving approach as “a bit of TLC (Tender Loving Care)”, KC Wai, Head of People at Deliveroo, says: “We should try to remember that we all started somewhere – and never forget this no matter how long we’ve been in the business."
"Instead of adopting a top-down approach, managers can ensure that their new hires feel – one: included; two: they are part of the team; and three: there is no such thing as a silly question.”
He suggests setting up regular one-on-one meetings, or keeping an open-door policy for these new employees: it's good for the manager's growth as well as the employee's growth, he adds.
Give them opportunities they may not know to ask for
Many first-time employees don't realise what skills are valuable, or what training they need, say managers who have been involved in the onboarding and development of these newly graduated hires. Derek Wong and Kenneth Chia, senior managers at AMD Singapore, list a few of these: the ability to work in a global, diverse environment; knowledge of who is who within the organisation; the ability to network effectively and make themselves known in the industry beyond the organisation; and even an understanding of how to make the best use of the workplace tools they are given, from technology to equipment to workflow.
“It is essential for organisations to provide the necessary platform and resources for fresh graduates and new hires to connect and learn from other key members within the organisation,” says Wong. He also shared how that works within AMD Singapore, with regular networking sessions for new hires to get to know the management within their first six months of joining the company, and courses conducted by senior management and targeted at new hires to allow for even more interaction.
While managers note that this focus on building up their skills may be time-consuming and resource-intensive, it does pay off, not least because most first-time employees are eager to get up to speed as soon as possible.
“Enable them to build relationships with as many people inside the organisation as possible,” advises Gerard Holland, CEO of Australia-based premier internship and graduate placement provider Outcome.Life. “With stronger relationships, they will get better supported and they can do their job better and faster.”
And Ranjani Kumar, Senior Director of Human Resources at Everise, says managers should be optimistic about how quickly the payoff will arrive: “Fresh grads may lack the expertise of full-time employees, but many of them are willing to try new things and learn new skills. This indicates that they are easily taught and could quickly become star employees in a company with some training.”
Create a career development path for them
First-time employees may take longer to find their footing than those with more working experience. But once they do, HR professionals and managers need to start looking into ways of retaining them – not least because that's when they become more mobile and more attractive to competitors.
Sally Elson, Head of People Advisory & Talent at MYOB, says that having a properly structured programme, whether for interns or graduates, is important to get good outcomes – and a good experience – for the individual. “Having the right structures in place...is the most important aspect of the program. The essential aspects of a good early career development program are to give them a sense of belonging, help them to feel confident enough to learn and ask questions, and clear on what is expected of them in their program.”
One approach she recommends is letting these first-time employees have a sense of agency, possibly by giving them the option to move through various different business areas and learn about the different functions. “As many people in their early careers crave a breadth of experience before they commit to an area, this is useful experience for them and also helps to give them a clearer perspective on how the organisation operates as a whole,” she observes.
Help them overcome challenges created specifically by the pandemic
HR professionals and managers alike flagged out several major disadvantages that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon employees entering the workforce for the first time. One is, of course, the lack of physical interaction in a formal workplace setting, particularly in locations where a full return to the office is not possible, or where the organisation has elected to remain fully remote. Without this interaction, fresh graduates will have a harder time learning the intangible but very important soft facets of their new profession, from communication techniques to workplace norms; and self-consciousness will often hold them back from asking.
Related to this is the difficulty in virtual networking; they will have much fewer opportunities for building relationships and growing their network than those who onboarded before the pandemic started. While they may eventually be able to catch up as economies reopen, it will take longer than usual, and meanwhile they will not be able to benefit fully from exposure, connections, and mentorships.
There are limited solutions to these particular challenges, say HR leaders. At best, they suggest doubling down on the strategies already used to assimilate fresh graduates and interns: more attention paid to them, more one-on-one meetings, more hand-holding if necessary, more effort to connect them to others outside the immediate team, or even outside the organisation or industry.
Ultimately, the onus is on HR leaders and managers – being the senior and more experienced authority figures – to get the path right for young people just entering the workforce. Pauline Puay, Vice President of Human Resources at gaming startup Storms, says:
“I believe that one’s first job plays a significant role in shaping one’s perception of how a great workplace and culture should look like. We have a shared responsibility to show what is right. Treat everyone in your workplace as equal and be open-minded to acknowledge that someone’s years of experience doesn’t necessarily define their potential.”
- Don't assume that graduate hires will know or be able to clearly articulate their own needs, strengths, or weaknesses
- Do ensure that they integrate into their team and into the organisation's culture, even if this involves more hand-holding or having to train the rest of the team
- Don't leave them to their own devices for too long; they need plenty of direction when starting out
- Do help them develop good relationships within and outside the team and organisation
- Do be prepared to invest greater time and resources into making sure they get a good head start