>Are your grads up to scratch?

>This week, @TheHRD posted a blog entitled Back to school, back to reality. He writes good stuff anyway, and this post was no different. He talked about the “need to reframe the relationship between business and education”, and introduced a term “bonded labour” which I’ve not heard before. It’s an interesting idea centred on ‘bonding’ your new starters – graduates or experienced – to the company for 2 years.

It reminded me of an idea I had some while ago about the need to develop our graduates into effective working individuals quickly. Below is a piece of work I wrote on the topic. Excuse the formality of the writing, it was written as if I was using it to present to the business or indeed an educational institution of sorts. Also this was written July 2009, so the information provided is correct as of then.
This isn’t just an extended Induction programme, it’s a lot more than that.
And I’m a bit up against it today, so I don’t like the format, wording or ‘delivery’ of the below, but I hope you get the idea.

The Problem

The Leitch Report identified that literacy and numeracy skills across the UK are at a poor level for school leavers. Out of 30 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, the UK is 17th on low skills: 5 million adults in the UK lack functional literacy and 17 million adults in the UK have difficulty with numbers.. A recent study by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Professional Development) suggests that employee skills are proportionately lower than needed in terms of general literacy and numeracy ability (“Reflections on the 2008 learning and development survey”). The implications of these reports suggest that the workforce will continue to experience a significant working population who are not able to do tasks such as writing reports, creating spreadsheets, analysing data, or be an active part of organisational policy/change.

These have provided a sharp look at the practices UK institutions choose to enact. In a positive move, schools have the option of allowing students to take a path on the new 14-19 diploma route which is less about passing exams and more about giving students the experiences required to be effective at work. 25% of UK companies are engaged in the Train to Gain scheme and 78% are developing occupational training schemes.

Beyond these initial findings, we then see that there is a direct impact on the skills employers are seeking from new employees. Interpersonal skills are seen by 79% of UK companies as being important, 68% view communication as next in importance. 61% of employers want a broader range of skills from new employees and 90% want increased leadership and management skills. A common argument supporting this upshot of required skills suggests that the current education system is lacking in providing ‘real work’ experiences and skills. Or thought of in a different way, those leaving the world of academics are not able to successfully transfer their skills to a working environment.

I suggest that the current education system in the UK provides ample opportunities to provide the relevant skills necessary for future careers. Support systems are constantly evolving to meet cultural, social, educational, familial needs. The UK education system has been constantly responding to the changing face of the world and allowing many more options for people to choose from to determine the direction of their career. We have seen a move from ‘O’ Levels to CSEs to GCSEs and now an extension to diplomas. Similarly we have seen at graduate levels, courses ranging from ‘traditional’ subjects such as Law, English, Philosophy, Medicine, to including new lines of thinking such as Gaming and Technology, Counselling, and Human Resource Management.

A Solution

I propose a course of action to provide graduates completing a degree with a 4 week training programme specifically designed to build and develop their skills and giving them the understanding of how to transfer these skills to the workplace. My belief is:

– Graduates will be eager to enter into some further training to support their entry to the workplace
– Prospective employers will be eager to have an influx of graduates who have the required skills that they are seeking

The programme will be titled ‘Certificate in Business Effectiveness’. The programme will be a certified programme recognised by industry that will allow employers to understand that those passing the programme have achieved a desired standard in Business Effectiveness.

The intention of this programme is to provide graduates with the confidence that they are able to enter a work environment with the skills that make a difference.

The 4 weeks would cover topics such as: Objective Setting, Project Management basics, Marketing Principles, Assertiveness skills, Presentations skills, Writing Business Cases, Conflict Management, Business Acumen, Financial Acumen.

The Support

The programme would include support after completion. This would take the form of an online space where students can access materials to help refresh learnings from the programme. There would also be practitioner support. An extra facet to the programme that we would include is to have a mentoring programme with industry practitioners who are willing to mentor those completing the programme.

The Requirements

3 ‘Practitioners’ would be required to teach the course subjects.
At the end of each week, the practitioners complete an assessment (based on the BARS system) on each student. Students must achieve level 4 at the end of the programme in order to pass the programme. At the end of the programme, students receive a certificate acknowledging their successful completion of the course in Business Effectiveness.

Those students who do not achieve Level 4 will only receive acknowledgement that the course was attended in full but the required standard was not achieved.

Regardless of level, each student will receive detailed feedback at the end of each week to enable focused development through the programme. At the end of the programme, each student will receive a complete profile based on their performance during the programme.

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>Business 101

>In a range of interactions today I was made aware of the importance of a little something called business acumen. The bread and butter of any successful organisation is to understand what business acumen is all about. I still don’t know if I get it. Not really. I get enough to understand a range of factors associated with it. You know, things like ROI, portfolio of clients, customer identification strategies, marketing, PR, R&D, finance, cash flow, profit and loss, revenue streams, new business pipeline. You do know, don’t you?

And that’s where things start to get interesting. How many of us actually understand all of that jargon I’ve just thrown out there? More importantly, how many of the fresh talent coming into the workforce understand any of those things? We have high expectations for graduates in particular but anyone starting their career in a company. But what are we doing to help them understand everything that’s expected of them? And I don’t mean the work they’re doing, but the important things of running a business.

So how do you do these things? Well a study by the CIPD showed that most learning and development in the workplace happens via information passed on and coaching done by the manager. In the first instance then, you have to know your stuff. You will always be the first port of call for a new recruit. You’re the one with the answers. You’re the one who can explain the meaning of life. The buck starts with you. It doesn’t end there though.

You then need to have in place a process or programme that helps your new recruit gain business insights. Huh? For example, arrange weekly/monthly sesisons where you discuss what’s been happening in the business and why any of that matters. When everyone was being asked to cut back on their spending, were you able to articulate why? When the recession meant redundancies had to be made, were you able to help the team see the business case for this? When Bob took sick leave every Monday consistently for 2 months were you able to discuss the impact of this and give appropriate feedback?

There also needs to be in place a session of sorts delivered by a senior business leader explaining what these things mean to give the business overview. In that session you need to also explain the jargon you use on a daily basis. What’s a TSV? What does cash flow mean? What is a revenue stream? How do we find new business? What does ROI actually mean? And R&D?

Then you’re looking to ensure you keep this activity up. Improve the quality of the conversations so deeper and more significant learning and development takes place. Send them on conferences where they can talk to other people about these things. Send them on an external course to interact with other industry people. Arrange discussions with other business units to help them understand how the business as a whole works.

And when you have all that in place, after about 2 years, they’ll be ready to move on and get promoted. 2 years I hear you scream? Absolutely. If you want your new recruit to be a high flyer, and if you’re serious about their career development you’ll invest 2 years of your own time and efforts to get that person up to scratch. And 2 years is a good target to aim for.

So, are you ready to teach Business 101?