Reflection on Graduate Programmes

A Tale of Two Graduate Programmes: A Case Study

With the varying efforts going towards addressing youth unemployment in South Africa, we still find ourselves faced with disheartening stats where our progress is concerned. Yet, despite this fact, it is encouraging to find that the private sector, government, as well as civil society continue to form partnerships in a quest to create opportunities for the young and unemployed. Duja recently took part in two such partnerships; the first, designed and launched pre-COVID, ended in the middle of our “new normal”. The second, a virtual programme, took advantage of the new way of working to prepare beneficiaries for the changing world of work.

What We Knew

Having worked with clients to implement internships and graduate programmes before, we had the benefit of hindsight during the planning phases of both programmes. While we knew the benefits of implementing a graduate programme, we also knew that there are some key measures that need to be put in place to set both graduate and host employer up for success:

Strategic Planning

In order for the objectives of the graduate programmes to be met, a well thought out strategy needed to be in place. What had to be considered:

  • How to get buy-in from leadership and all role players to be involved in each programme
  • How the host employer/s would use the programme to build their talent pipeline and what talent indicators would be used during the recruitment process
  • How to ensure that structured skills transfer would take place and that the graduates would be engaged in meaningful work throughout each programme
  • The budget and resources available for each programme. The virtual programme was industry funded while the second was funded by a discretionary grant from the relevant SETA. In both cases, detailed budgets were drawn up and required to be reported against monthly

Structured Onboarding

A well-structured onboarding process is as important for a graduate recruit as it is for a permanent hire and we knew that a good onboarding plan ensures that the candidate feels supported, included, and settles well into their new role. This while increasing the likelihood of retention should the employer wish to offer the graduate a permanent position. The onboarding process for the graduates included orientation into the workplace so that they were well prepared for the professional environment.

Ongoing Support

With the graduates having little to no working experience, their support could not end at onboarding. We understood the importance of assigning a workplace mentor who would drive collaboration that includes the graduates and supports them in their day-to-day tasks. Another significant role player in the graduate programme is someone that acts as their support coach. This individual acts as an impartial party that helps the grads adapt to the various changes that come with joining a company for the first time. The support coach ensured that the grads felt engaged and acted as an intermediary between mentor and grad where necessary.

Opportunities for Growth

Reviewing their performance and giving meaningful feedback provides graduates with opportunities to develop and make a difference in the organization wherein they are placed. Experience taught us that this, coupled with making training and development available to the graduates during their programme, improves performance and increases retention rates.

The Outcome

Programme One: During the second half of our programme, we were hit with COVID restrictions, an obstacle that nobody anticipated. Even so, because we had challenged the “candidates”, as we referred to them, to put forward their best selves throughout the one-year programme, they were determined to see the programme to the finish line. In the end, we had an encouraging number of candidates offered full time positions and others funded to pursue a qualification relevant to the industry they were now in.

Programme Two: When you give a young person, going into their first job, a role that requires them to work from home, an understandable amount of nervousness ensues. It was thus greatly pleasing to witness the discipline and purpose displayed by all the interns on this virtual programme. While load shedding and connectivity issues caused some frustration, to say the least, the work never stopped. Many of the interns on the programme entered with little to no knowledge about the kind of roles they were put into and left with a keen interest to pursue these roles as a career choice.

Parting Thoughts

Two key take-aways from both programmes are, first, to never underestimate the power of a good partnership for great impact and, second, that a day spent on developing a young person is never wasted. We continue to learn while delivering graduate programmes and always seek ways to improve. From TVET to university graduate, we know that with the right opportunity, young people can make a difference to you and your organisation.