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When skills are worth more than money

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New Zealand graduates rate training and development higher than salary when choosing an employer, putting pressure on small- to medium-sized businesses to offer corporate-style career schemes.

The latest research by the New Zealand Association of Graduate Employers (NZAGE) found 73 per cent of graduates rated training and development as a reason for choosing their current employer. The main reason, identified by 79 per cent of graduates, was employer reputation. Only 29 per cent said their decision was based on salary.

The NZAGE Graduate Survey 2016 questioned 446 graduates throughout the country on their motivations for joining an organisation and what would encourage them to stay longer with their current employer.

Ivan Moss, the University of Auckland’s Director of Executive Education, says today’s graduates are thinking ahead: “The best graduates are trading off salary for the place they think they’re going to get the best development.

“They’re smart enough to know that it’s not what they earn now that’s important, it’s what they’ll earn in three to five years’ time.

“Some new graduates we’ve spoken to have found themselves professionally isolated. They didn’t have people to ask about all sorts of things – because asking your colleagues or boss can be difficult when you’re new and haven’t built your professional confidence yet.

“They needed help with a lot of ‘soft’ skills – things like how to run a good meeting, have a difficult conversation, put forward your ideas, talk to your boss about your development, give and receive feedback. All of those skills are quite different to the ones you need when you’re a student.”

The push for employers to offer graduate schemes is also reflected in a global study by management consulting firm Hay Group involving 450 HR directors and 450 graduate employees. Results showed organisations tended to neglect efforts to develop people skills in their staff and expected it to happen on the job.

The report, titled Today’s graduates: Worth their weight in gold? said: “The message for organisations is clear. The pressure is on to give younger workers the tools and opportunities to develop their social and emotional competencies, practise the right behaviours, pause and reflect, and receive ongoing feedback.

“This will give workers the people skills that are crucial to survival in a changing business environment.”

While large corporations such as the “big four” accounting firms have well-established graduate schemes, small- and medium-sized businesses are increasingly expected to offer similar benefits despite having fewer resources.

Moss says: “Many employers want to hire graduates, they want to help them, but they’re just not big enough to run structured development programmes. Lots of employers out there want a scheme they can simply sign up to.”

Next month Moss and his team are launching the Graduate Development Programme for people who have been in their first professional role for less than three years.

Participants will come into the University of Auckland Business School for six hours a month for seven months for a series of workshops, guest speakers, case studies and networking. Everyone will complete a personal action plan, identifying professional and personal skills they would like to develop and track their progress via monthly meetings with a sponsor in their workplace.

Moss says: “For the employer, the person becomes more productive faster so it accelerates their contribution to the business. They can do more and use their talents more.

“For the graduate, they develop their professional skills and they learn not just about their world of work but people from other organisations and industries too. They establish a new support network of other graduates. Opportunities like this often make people happier in their jobs and more likely to stay.”

The programme is facilitated by a mix of leading academics and practitioners with extensive experience in facilitation and education, including Professor Kevin Lowe, Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership.



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