Developing the 'Me' Generation

Developing the \'Me\' Generation

Graduates are not 'oven-ready' and 'flat-packed for assembly'

“Organisations who want 21-year- olds to be 'oven-ready' and 'flat-packed for assembly' and who don't invest in their development are on the wrong track…” Anthony Hesketh, director, Centre for Performance-led HR, University of Lancaster Management School.

Defined by most of the UK's graduate labour specialists as anyone born in the 1980s, the new generation of people starting work "throw up an enormous challenge to HR in terms of their retention", says Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

Employers report problems as diverse as hard-to-manage attitudes, lunchtime binge drinking and a simple inability to spell or add up, yet firms are still falling over themselves to recruit this fresh crop of workers.

Keeping them happy and motivated, however, is an entirely different matter. They crave a glittering career, squeaky clean business ethics, top-notch salaries and the sort of work-life balance that would have been unthinkable to their parents - a set of demands any employer will struggle to meet.

Anthony Hesketh, director of the Centre for Performance-led HR at the University of Lancaster Management School, believes today's graduate can be a tough customer for a whole range of reasons. "Of course these people are selfish and ambitious and no, they don't have a concept of deferred gratification when it comes to building a career, but within two years of joining an organisation, they are worth on average two-and-a-half times their salary. That makes them a vital weapon in the war for talent," he says.

Graduates are not clones
Where many employers go wrong, he adds, is in treating graduates as one homogenous group of clones. "Organisations who want 21-year- olds to be 'oven-ready' and 'flat-packed for assembly' and who don't invest in their development are on the wrong track. The trick is to identify different graduate types and come up with customised solutions for them."

Hesketh believes there is a huge range of ability between bottom- tier graduates who are "frankly unemployable" and top-tier workers who are future business leaders. Between the two are sound managers and future 'knowledge workers', but they need handling very differently to get the best out of them.

One of the most difficult issues in the first few years of someone's career is retention. Ford Motor Company has one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry and is prepared to go to great lengths to keep its graduates away from competitors.

"We believe in putting our money where our mouth is in terms of employee benefits, and this is particularly true when it comes to bright graduates," says HR spokesman Oliver Rowe. "We pay well and graduates are immensely attracted by our preferential car prices for staff."

Keeping them sweet
Ford offers a no-strings, annual £200 training allowance which can be used to learn anything from Mandarin to deep-sea fishing, and a 12-month, full-pay maternity package it believes is unrivalled in the UK. On-site crèches and what Rowe calls a "sympathetic approach" to flexible working complete the firm's graduate-friendly benefits.

Another way to keep the Y generation motivated is early responsibility, believes Simon Woodroffe, entrepreneur and founder of the Yo! Sushi chain. "If you build a great company, bright people want to come and work for you, but it isn't just money they're after," he says.

"If you give people more responsibility than their age or experience warrants, you will find that three times out of four, they will respond beautifully to the challenge and do great things, particularly if you allow them to make mistakes and learn from them."

Sharing the fruits of your success also helps to breed loyalty. He says: "We want to do more than make money for our shareholders, and that's attractive too."

The full version of this article appeared in Personnel Today November 2006

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