Reaching out to future talent graduates & apprentices

Written by
Changeboard Team

28 Aug 2013

28 Aug 2013 • by Changeboard Team

The next generation of talent

As this generation of graduates and school leavers face an unprecedented struggle to get their foot on the career ladder, what can employers do to ensure they play their part in helping the next generation of talent launch their careers?

Mhairi Buckley, Kingfisher

As our operating companies were struggling to recruit top quality commercial talent at mid to senior level, we created an international commercial graduate programme. It is designed to attract, retain and train commercial, French-speaking mobile talent.

There are spaces for seven graduates on a two-year programme, with an induction starting in July. Over the next 11 months, the participants gain head office and store experience, with four people being placed at B&Q in Southampton and the other three going to Brico Dépôt in Paris.

When they have successfully completed the programme, we encourage them to apply across any OpCo commercial department within any relevant category.

In March last year we advertised through Graduate Recruitment Bureau for bilingual, mobile, commercially minded graduates. Of 650 applicants, 25 were shortlisted for two assessment days in April. Eight people were successful and seven accepted our offer of a place, starting employment in July.

Throughout their placements they had weekly review meetings with their managers, and three-month appraisals with HR and line managers.

This year we are aiming to hire a further eight graduates and are extending the programme to our Castorama commercial team, based in Lille.

Our training is made unique by having two very different companies and cultures – at B&Q and Brico Dépôt working together to achieve our core ‘Creating the Leader’ strategy.

We are creating a networked organisation, stronger than the sum of its parts, while harnessing our diversity and closeness to the local customer.

As we are only nine months into our first year, it’s difficult to give specific hard evidence of results. However, the projects that the graduates are involved in have been diverse, global and at the heart of the business they are working in.

Communication is core, no matter how big or diverse your organisation is. To allow the graduates to succeed and excel, the business needs to fully support and understand the different ways you need to induct, develop and manage them.

Graduates also need to know exactly what support network is available to them, as well as clear lines of authority. There is a line between friend and colleague and this can be blurred at the early stage of their career, do not assume they know this.


Mhairi BuckleyMhairi Buckley, group senior talent manager, Kingfisher
Mhairi is responsible for the creation for Kingfisher’s International Graduate Programme and supporting its ‘creating the leader’ strategy through internal talent networks.


Alexandra Sinton, Logica

We have four entry-level schemes: advanced apprenticeship, sponsored degree, industrial placement and graduate.

Our Advanced Apprenticeships are for 16-year-olds leaving school after GCSEs and fulfil level 3 (A level equivalent) requirements. We offer 25-35 of these every year. Our newest venture is an advanced IT apprentice scheme, which we’ve introduced to meet increasing demand for technically trained and niche specialists, and also cater to technically focussed school leavers.

School leavers that have completed A levels or a level 3 qualification are invited to apply for the sponsored degree programme. They can choose business management with or without IT streams, combining their studies while starting a career with us. The University of Winchester delivers the business content while Logica specialists take care of the technical side.

The industrial placement scheme is open only to undergraduates studying a four-year degree with a year in industry, while the graduate scheme is for those who have completed a bachelors or masters degree. We have 40 and around 60 places respectively of these students to return to us for full-time employments.

We can offer choice of route to entry-level hires passionate about developing a career in IT. In return, the schemes help us focus talent in niche and expanding areas of the business, allowing us to grow organically through investment in talented individuals committed to the company and the sector.

Candidates join us as full-time employees from day one on all our schemes, with the exception of our industrial placement programme, from which about 60% of graduates return to us when they finish their degree. Our successes are partly measured by retention rate, which for the sponsored degree programme is 91% post-graduation, and also in achievement − 83% of students completing this scheme have graduated with a 2:1 or a first. We would like to see similar retention rates for our apprentice and graduate programmes, with the number of placement students returning to us rising gradually as well.

There are three key things to focus on when introducing a new scheme. To start with, there’s the development and progression routes of the new-entry hires. Our level 3 apprentices are given the opportunity to progress to the sponsored degree programme or other level 4 qualifications, as well as benefitting from complimentary in-house and informal training.

Also, bigger doesn’t always mean better. Smaller targets can often help you build success quicker. A smaller, more agile programme could, for many, be a better building block for future success. Tailoring development and focusing on individuals could bring better results and retention, which could strengthen the business case for further investment or bigger targets in future years.

Finally, by using current or recent students for on-campus promotions, you can build and strengthen a recruitment brand more effectively than through mass media marketing, in some situations. It can also quickly increase the number of applications.


Alex SintonAlexandra Sinton, UK student recruitment manager, Logica
Alexandra joined Logica in June 2012 from Deloitte. She is responsible for the recruitment and selection of 200 entry-level hires for the apprentice, sponsored degree programme, industrial placement and graduate programmes.

Helen Baxter, Mars Petcare and Food

Our graduate scheme is multifaceted. Some graduates know which area of the business they want to work in. For these, our specialist programmes offer the chance to become an expert in finance, R&D, engineering or procurement, to gain professional qualifications and absorb a mixture of first-rate technical training and invaluable commercial experience.

For those that want to experience a range of what Mars offers, our Management Development Programme (MMDP) provides a more generalist opportunity. Over the course of the three-year programme, recruits develop expertise across a range of functions and gain a breadth of front-line management experience.

Whether graduates choose a specialist programme or the MMDP, all recruits have access to a strong support structure that includes line managers, mentors and a buddy.

Most placements last between eight and 12 months, but the specialist programmes and MMDPs run for two and three years respectively. These teach the skills needed within a number of areas of the business. You can then move upwards, sideways and across borders and functions. We emphasize the value of learning from different experiences, as these will give you the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

Each year, we offer a maximum of 35 graduate placements across our chocolate, food, pet care and Wrigley businesses, with the aim of attracting some of the best graduates from universities across the UK.

The graduate schemes play an integral role at Mars, particularly in the recruitment of aspiring talent across the whole business. With a number of our previous graduates now in senior management roles, the programme has proven to be valuable to the individuals involved and the business as a whole.

Each of our graduates starts out on a permanent contract and more than 75% of them enter full-time roles within the business once the programme has been completed. We retain a large proportion of these graduates − eight years on, more than 60% still work at Mars in a variety of management and senior management roles all over the world. We also make offers to graduates at direct entry level into sales, customer service and HR.  

For HR professionals looking to introduce a similar programme, I’d advise getting a good understanding of the purpose of the scheme and what the future needs of the business are, then creating a scheme that is in line with these. At Mars, we constantly look three to five years ahead to ensure that we are maintaining our competitive advantage and that our associates have the skills they need to deliver this.

Helen Baxter 2Helen Baxter, head of  talent Mars Petcare and Food
Helen is responsible for external talent attraction, graduate recruitment and internal talent development.

Jo Ward, head of talent and resourcing, Nestl?? UK

The Nestlé Academy was launched in November 2011. It has more than 100 opportunities per year for young people.

We recognised that our processes needed to change to reflect the fact that young talent was not accelerating through the organisation, there were limited entry points and a lack of coordination across development programmes. Added to this, tuition fees and youth unemployment were both rising.  With the food and drink sector comparing poorly against other sectors as an employer of choice, we decided to revitalise our attraction strategy to engage young people with Nestlé and the industry in general.

We offer apprenticeship schemes in engineering and manufacturing across our UK factories, summer vacation and full-year intern programmes in our commercial functions and a graduate programme across various functions. From September we will also offer a commercial school leaver degree programme combining work experience and academic study.

The Nestlé Academy is a long-term strategy. Over the next five years, we’ll focus on internal promotions, accelerating career progression and reducing external hiring at senior levels. In the short-term, we’ve moved up the ranking tables (from 91st to 47th place in the Times 100 and from 189 to 74 in in the Guardian 300), and doubled the number of graduate and apprenticeship opportunities.

The Academy’s success will be measured by how well it delivers on its ambitious plans over the next five years. After 12 months, we are already seeing success in our programmes through our graduates, apprentices and vocational qualifications, with individuals accelerating more quickly and attracting more females into the manufacturing and engineering sector.

The support we’ve received from across the business has been crucial. We had a strong business case and the project was sponsored by our chairman, and led by the group HR director and talent and resourcing team. A large cross-functional group of leaders and managers have also been involved.

We have revised our attraction and selection process. Traditional methods did not seem to be identifying the right talent, so we have switched to a strengths methodology looking at potential rather than competence.

Finally, we have worked with partner organisations such as the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, the Food and Drink Federation, the IGD and the National Apprentice Service to address particular topics. There is a high level of complexity and bureaucracy surrounding the attraction, employment and development of young people − particularly around apprenticeships − but working together we can find creative approaches and support.


Jo BaxterJo Ward, head of talent and resourcing, Nestlé UK
Jo is responsible for talent acquisition, assessment and development.

Jeff Lackey, Rolls-Royce

We offer graduate and apprentice programmes globally across a number of disciplines ranging from engineering and supply chain management to HR and finance. We introduced these schemes as a way to secure Rolls-Royce’s future, by creating a growing pipeline of talent that will help us achieve our aspirations around innovation, growth and fulfilling our commitment to be trusted to deliver excellence.

This year, globally, we will recruit more than 1,100 students onto corporate programmes. This includes more than 400 places for graduates, nearly 400 internships ranging from 3 to 12 months in length and a further 330 apprenticeships and school leaver placements.

Rolls-Royce has a continued need for a robust graduate and apprentice pipeline to support the growth objectives of the company, as well as provide replacements for an increasing number of retirees.  The advanced work we do in aerospace, defence, marine and energy markets appeals to candidates.

Graduates are offered permanent contracts. For apprentices, we have a retention rate of 98% in the UK, where about a fifth of our current senior managers started their careers as Rolls-Royce apprentices.

If you’re an HR leader looking to introduce a new graduate scheme, I recommend starting with the end in mind. Examine what kind of talent will be critical for your success and develop a programme that meets those needs. Look at existing partnerships with educational institutions and build on those relationships. Organise, prepare and enable employees to interact with students, professors and administrators in a way that propels your brand message and attracts students to your programmes. Work with leadership to develop clear career paths for students, enabling them to get the right type of experiences that accelerate their learning and development to become the type of leaders your organisation needs for the future. And ensure you gain and maintain executive ownership, not just support, at the top of the organisation, so that the value of the program is not questioned during the inevitable tough times. 

Jeff LackeyJeff Lackey, head of global resourcing, Rolls-Royce
Jeff has led the transformation of Rolls-Royce’s recruitment for experienced hires, graduates and apprentices, and contingent labor for all its global operations.

Mel Worth, head of resourcing, Sainsburys

We launched our new 2020 Leaders Programme last year. There are 20 places available on the scheme in three areas: operations (stores and logistics), commercial (buying and marketing) and people (HR and customer services).

All graduates start with a four-month placement in a store over the busy Christmas period so they can learn how they work and the importance of great customer service. This is followed by placements and projects across the business, working closely with directors and being immersed in the corporate culture. Next, graduates move into a series of management positions, leading a team of their own and experiencing the breadth of the business environment.

We also run two specialist graduate programmes − Property and Own Brand. In the 2012 intake we recruited 11 graduates to the former and four to the latter. We also have placement opportunities ranging from an eight-week summer placement to six and 12-month placements.

We have 20 places on the 2020 leadership programme, which was launched last September, with about eight opportunities for placement students. On the specialist schemes we have roughly eight places for graduates for the 2013 intake. 

The graduates on the leadership programme have completed their initial store placements and moved into their first roles within their chosen divisions. They will now complete various rotations which will enable them to gain a rounded view of the business and put their learning into practice.  After completing Phase 1 of their programmes in March 2014, all the graduates will go through a development centre which will allow us to promote them to line manager responsibility and wider reaching tasks within their divisions. Phase 2 will allow the graduates to experience roles within teams in our Store Support Centre and stores with higher levels of responsibility.

Of the four summer placements that we took on under the 2020 Leadership Programme, three are joining the full graduate scheme in September. 

When introducing a new scheme, it’s important to understand the wider business requirements for a graduate programme and tailor the schemes to these. Not all divisions will need graduates to create a talent pipeline and there might be other ways to get people into those parts of the business.

Mel WorthMel Worth, head of resourcing, Sainsbury’s
Mel looks after attraction, recruitment and development of retail colleagues and graduates.

Marcus Lee, Santander UK

This year, Santander has launched a nationwide programme to recruit 275 apprentices in our main offices and branch network.
We started this scheme to support young people who lack employability skills for today’s workplace, or face global competition, rising tuition fees and growing numbers of jobseekers. These are just some of the issues that have made job prospects difficult for people.

As part of our Early in Career programme last year, we developed a pilot apprenticeship scheme with roles at our offices in Merseyside and West Yorkshire. It was successful, so we are rolling it out nationally and taking on candidates for full-time roles in operations, retail and telephone distribution divisions.

This year we’re taking on 275 apprentices aged 16-plus who have at least two GCSE (or equivalent) grades A-C in English and Maths. Successful applicants will join as permanent employees and study for vocational qualifications in Providing Financial Services or Customer Service – the equivalent of five GCSEs.

Santander wants to attract employees who reflect our culture and values. As we want them to be as diverse as the customers we serve, we need to offer a broad range of career paths.

Apprenticeships allow us to recruit from a different part of the talent pool. They also offer more opportunities for talented individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds to consider joining the banking sector. This increases the mobilisation of talent, instead of limiting opportunities to graduates or applicants with industry experience.

As the apprenticeship programme is new, we don’t have data on its success yet, but every new apprentice is taken on as a full-time permanent employee. This is a measure of commitment on both sides.

By taking on Early in Career candidates and having them follow an accredited programme such as our apprenticeship scheme, they will be given the best possible platform on which to build a successful long-term career with us.

If you’re trying to introduce a new apprenticeship scheme, get the support of managers and colleagues to run parallel to a comprehensive training schedule. Taking on apprentices as full- time employees helps reinforce this commitment. Also, be very clear with candidates about what you can expect from each other. Think about taking on all your apprentices at different times. It takes a lot of resource to ensure they are properly introduced to the business, and it might be easier to do this if you phase the intake.

Marcus LeeMarcus Lee, head of resourcing, early in career and talent, Santander UK
Marcus looks after the delivery of an end-to-end resourcing and talent service to enable Santander to attract, recruit and retain the right people.

Nicola Hart, BSkyB

Sky’s graduate programme has been running since 2008 and includes 90 roles across areas such as marketing, finance and technology. Since launch, and including this year’s intake, we have offered 357 graduate roles and have a 91% retention rate.

The apprenticeship scheme launched in 2011 and started in technology. This year it has grown threefold and now offers 98 placements with similar scope to our graduate programme, including broadcast and customer operations. Its focus is supporting young people who are looking for valuable career and education opportunities but are no longer considering university. All of our programmes are aimed predominantly at 16-24 year-olds.

As well as developing talented people for operational roles, we are also looking for the leaders of the future. By identifying talent early, we provide development opportunities and exposure to the wider business.

Our finance and software academy programmes are examples of how training is strategically aligned to the needs of the business. Each year, software engineers complete a seven-month fast-track programme which starts with a four-week induction. After induction, they are ready to start working on real Sky projects, adding value to what we produce and deliver straightaway.

In developing these programmes, we have learnt that while our team can find no end of talented young people, once they have started at Sky the key players within the business play the critical role of providing quality placements, induction and on-going support. Due to the complexity of the business, our programmes have grown in a very organic way.

This has led to some challenges in strategically aligning all the programmes and effectively communicating this to candidates. We are continually evaluating and reviewing our operational delivery model to address these issues and envisage making further changes to ensure our propositions remain attractive in the market place.

I’d recommend having a structured and centralised company and business induction to gain maximum benefit early on and help talent to develop quickly. For apprenticeship programmes, make sure you identify who will provide accreditation early in the process to ensure the right fit with the opportunity and business. Finally, make sure stakeholders within the business are engaged with the strategic direction and delivery plan.

Nicola HartNicola Hart, head of future talent, BSkyB
Nicola’s focus in on using future talent opportunities as a key resourcing strategy to address long-term skills requirements, providing a pipeline for future leadership, increasing the diversity of the workforce, promoting the employer brand and contributing to the development of young people.

Carole Donaldson, manager, resourcing, John Lewis

Graduate training schemes

We offer five graduate training schemes, in finance, partnership technology, retail, buying and merchandising, with industrial placements in the latter three. We’ve recently reviewed all the programmes and have added specific elements to each.

We recruit a different number onto the schemes each year. Our talent team completes an audit across the division to identify where we are expecting movement, matches this with the identified internal talent pipeline and decides how many graduates we need to bring in to meet any gaps in demand. This year we are recruiting 60 across the schemes.
We don’t set an age range for the graduate schemes, so we can attract a more diverse population. This year we’ve offered places to three candidates who left university and pursued other careers before deciding on retail.

A number of our graduate trainees have progressed to senior roles – including Andy Street, MD John Lewis and Mark Price MD Waitrose. We recognise this kind of ambition and reflect it in our graduate schemes.

If you’re introducing a new graduate programme, it’s important to be clear on its purpose, what roles graduates can work towards and the route they will take to get there. You then need to work with the learning and development team to create a clear picture of what an outstanding candidate looks like. This will help you decide your attraction strategy, be able to sell your scheme and create targeted selection tools such as application forms, SJTs and assessments.

You also need to understand how the graduate scheme fits into other schemes you offer so you can see where there is a natural synergy. For example, we offer places on our graduate programme to high performing industrial placement students.

Apprenticeship schemes

In 2011, we launched two retail apprenticeship schemes – one for 18-year-olds and under, and the other for 19 and 20-year-olds. These were opened up to external candidates the following year. This year we are recruiting 120 apprentices across the schemes.

So far, we’ve found that apprentices bring a vast amount of new ideas, thoughts and perspectives, as they are predominantly fresh from learning and have experiences and approaches that energise others.

Like graduates, all apprentices are full-time employees with the business from day one and are guaranteed a permanent role when they finish their training successfully. As the scheme is relatively new we have not yet completed any analysis. However, we have experienced below average turnover within the group and some great feedback on the calibre of the 2012 cohort from across the division.

Carole DonaldsonCarole Donaldson, manager, resourcing, John Lewis
Carole is responsible for graduate recruitment for John Lewis which has delivered a 17 place improvement in position with the Times Top 100 as well as securing two employer awards.