When it began 10 years ago, Gradireland received less than 20 submissions for its awards ceremony.
A decade later, it’s a sold-out event with more than 150 submissions from companies wanting to showcase the strength of their graduate programmes and more than 7,000 students casting votes for the company they’d most like to work for.
The 2016 awards ceremony was Gradireland’s biggest to date and the growth in the number of companies starting graduate programmes, or re-introducing ones that lapsed during the recession, played no small part in making the event a success.
“There’s been a huge growth in them [graduate programmes] in the last 12 months and particularly since we emerged from the recession – what we’ve seen is the graduate job landscape has changed fundamentally from pre-recession to post-recession,” says Mark Mitchell of Gradireland.
One notable development is the race to secure talent. Research carried out by Gradireland found 49 per cent of graduate recruiters anticipate challenges in finding candidates with the right skills.
On top of a good academic background, strong communication, teamwork, presentation and technical skills, are what make for a desirable graduate, says Mitchell.
Glanbia, which won the Best Training and Development Programme Business/ Management prize this year, has seen a huge increase in competition for graduates.
This is due to employers growing their programmes, along with an increase in the number of summer internships and work placements offered as part of degree programmes.
“You’re not only looking at ambitious and bright graduates, but you’re looking for ambitious and bright graduates that fit the culture and the values that you represent as an organisation and that’s a challenge,” says Rose Mary Hogan, head of graduate recruitment and development with Glanbia.
“What we’re looking for first and foremost is the right attitude; a real passion and motivation for what they want to do and someone who wants to be challenged, who wants to make an impact.
“Curiosity, not being afraid to challenge the status quo and really wanting to make a difference with the people around them is important.”
Graduates from accounting, finance and engineering are three of the key areas that Glanbia hires for its graduate programmes, along with food science and marketing.
Despite the competition for the best graduates, an increase in applications to the company’s programme in the past number of years means it has been able to hire at a satisfactory level.
Its intake onto its graduate programme has grown from 23 graduates in 2013 to an expected 65 later this year, reflecting the growth of the company globally.
While the talent war is real, it doesn’t mean candidates aren’t there, but attracting them to the company is key. This is why some organisations have started their own graduate programmes.
For the first time ever last year, the Irish Institute of Training & Development had a number of queries from companies considering graduate programmes. In response, IITD held an oversubscribed training day in November.
The training helped clarify companies’ thinking on what a graduate programme is, the time and resources involved and whether it would be a good fit for their organisation.
Sinéad Heneghan, chief executive of IITD, who led the training day, says that while higher education is producing graduates with deep disciplinary knowledge, other core skills, such as creativity, innovation, critical thinking and communication can only fully be developed through a wide range of assignments, across a variety of roles, such as those provided through graduate schemes.
“Today’s young professionals need to possess deep disciplinary knowledge, along with a keen ability to communicate across social, cultural and economic boundaries.
“There is a better awareness of the need to create the right environment, where career paths and progression opportunities are clear and where senior leaders are seen as champions of learning by graduates entering the world of work.”
Another change that Mitchell has noticed over the past 10 years is the approach millennials take to work.
“A lot of graduate programmes now have a very detailed approach to training, and a lot of that is in response to millennials’ requirement for feedback. Millennials are extremely engaged in their own career thinking, learning and development.
“Companies have responded to that by making great improvements in how they take in and develop talent for the future. The retention rates of young people from graduate programmes is very high now.”
An increase in graduate programmes and an emphasis on the quality can only be good news for graduates.
Opportunities are to be found, not just in traditional professions such as banking, insurance and finance, but also in IT, technology, retail and food.
“A diverse mix is very important to us,” says Paul Vance, head of resourcing with KPMG.
“We want students from all disciplines because our clients are in every industry sector. As well as hiring business and accounting students, we want engineers, science, law, IT, arts students and so on, because they will bring different critical thinking and our clients value that in us.
“Many of our senior management and partners reflect this diversity and our clients appreciate it too.”
KPMG has performed consistently well at the Gradireland awards, winning the Graduate Employer of the Year award in 2015.*
Vance says KMPG’s strong emphasis on continuously improving its graduate programme plays a key role in this.
“We know that students and graduates want a challenging and rewarding career and at KPMG we offer this. We’ve had the best professional exam results in the country for the last five years, so graduates know their talent will be developed here better than anywhere else – our results literally speak for themselves.”
As well as training to be a business professional, KPMG graduates get involved in corporate social responsibility activities, can avail of global secondments and have a mentor to help establish themselves as professionals.
While no one knows what the next 10 years have in store, the growing number of graduate opportunities point to a bright future for college-leavers.
This article first appeared in The Irish Times and is reproduced here with their kind permission.