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Graduates and Apprentices - Lessons from the Training Room

Working with apprentices and graduates has presented its unique set of challenges and opportunities, these are some of our key insights from working with this cohort over the past couple of years.

It’s Always the Quiet or Loud Ones

There is a place for tertiary results and psychometric testing, but we believe it’s important to give candidates the opportunity to show how they can create, coordinate, collaborate and succeed as part of a team as well. Top scores aren’t always a precursor to success, and we find that diverse candidates with imperfect records and more rounded life experiences are more likely to succeed. When assisting with graduate and apprentice selection, we craft activities designed to showcase different skills sets. We take it as a given that those that have been shortlisted have the aptitude and the scores to succeed - our focus is to give everyone an opportunity. Coming from an arts standpoint we’ve helped those that tap into the right side of their brains and given those who are more emotive and creative an opportunity to shine.

Smartest in the Room

Graduates and apprentices are selected for their aptitude. It’s not uncommon that they have been top of the class and that others have looked to them for guidance and expertise. When participants bring this into the workplace, we’ve seen them struggle to “fit-in” (and it doesn't endear them to their new colleagues) and may lead to insular work practices. This can often be associated with their fear of being found out, (imposter syndrome), and so ensuring they are part of different teams delivering multiple projects helps to break down these barriers as they learn to collaborate with others to succeed.

They Talk a Big Game

The world of work is world away from higher education and the skills that get graduates selected aren’t the same skills that will help them flourish in their placements. Our experience is that this cohort can come into the program thinking they don’t have anything left to learn, (particularly dangerous when working with heavy equipment), and so we need to gently shift them from being unconsciously unskilled, to becoming conscious of their skills and knowledge gaps. Much energy is often spent during orientation exploring what graduates and apprentices don’t yet know, and even more time to what they don’t yet know that they don’t yet know. We can help them practice those skills as they begin to become consciously skilled using interactive training.

Lifelong Learning

We appreciate that graduates have often just completed 15 years of formal education, (often without a break), and the idea of lifelong learning is far from an apprentice's or graduate's mind. Graduate programs and apprenticeships are just the start of that process of ongoing improvement. When done well - these programs set participants up with a lifelong love of learning, so that they welcome training opportunities rather than see them as a necessary chore to be ticked off each year. When we can inspire passionate learners, we set them up for continuous growth.

Interpersonal Skills

Most often we are asked to help graduates and apprentices with their communication. Organisations can be concerned that their new recruits won’t be able to successfully communicate with those around them, particularly pre-existing staff that have been in the business some time. We often work with this demographic to help them uncover how to start using their assertiveness, clarity, when to speak up and how to use their body to be noticed, (or not be noticed). When we talk to coordinators, they will mention things like “you know what this cohort is like”, “we’re got the usual issues with this lot”, “they need taking down a peg”, “they need bringing out of their shell”. And while it's true we do see similar requests from a myriad of industries, we don’t often get asked to skill up existing staff on how to work better with graduates and apprentices, and this is a concern as we feel this cohort is often asked to “fit in” to an existing culture that sometimes isn’t as inclusive as it could be.

Their Knowledge of the Office is based on The Office.

So many of the learners we see haven’t been in an office environment, or if they have it is very limited. Morning tea, water cooler conversations and working with diverse stakeholders is a foreign concept to many - to the point where often the candidate’s exposure to office and workplace culture is limited to what they see on TV. Whilst the office politics might be accurately portrayed, these shows don’t feature storylines where boring projects are completed, or tenders are painstakingly written (and who would want to watch that anyway!). We find that the organisations with the most success have given their candidates time to immerse themselves in the organisation, have let them spend time with their teams and exposed them to different aspects of their role. Letting this demographic have some time to readjust before building up the expectations you have of them is essential.

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