Leaving education and entering the world of work is a “jerk” for graduates. “They don’t know what employment is,” says Chris Hirst, managing director of advertising agency Havas Creative. The challenge, he says – both for employers and for the new hires themselves – is how quickly graduates can become “really useful” without the same level of “enhancing and structured learning” they received at university.
Graduates whose university education has been disrupted by the pandemic and whose only work experience may have been a remote “internship” are poised to enter workplaces that struggle with hybrid work and tight training budgets.
according to a report According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), a staff association, around a third of UK organizations reported reducing their learning and development budgets, headcount and use of external consultants during the pandemic.
That, along with calls for social distancing, explains the shift to tech platforms. Before 2020, according to the CIPD, only 36 percent of organizations used webinars or virtual classrooms, compared to 51 percent last year. For graduates, education is more diverse than ever, says Alastair Woods, global co-leader for people analytics at accounting firm PwC. “If you train to be an accountant or an analyst, a bigger part is online.”
Simon Hallett, Resourcing Director at Deloitte, says the pandemic has forced the professional services firm to reassess its training and consider “whether we need to go back to work in person after moving to 100 percent online”. The company has adopted a 50/50 mix of online and in-person learning.
The advantages of online learning for graduates is that they can study at their own pace and repeat lessons. Now employers are exploring how to familiarize their newest employees with new work patterns and company cultures, and how to develop their soft skills, such as communication, as well as the technical skills actually required to do their jobs.
“Companies that don’t update their training models in response [to hybrid working] become less competitive,” says Jeff Maggioncalda, managing director of Coursera, a course provider.
In many ways, while companies are still adjusting to the new realities, the hybrid graduate education will have served as good preparation for the new workplace. But some patterns are emerging.
One approach that is likely to continue is buddy systems, which many organizations have adopted or reinforced during the pandemic. Consulting firm Oliver Wyman, for example, matches new graduates with two or three seniors for informal check-ins, instead of the one or two it assigned before the pandemic.
At Standard Chartered, the bank’s approach aligns with its hybrid work patterns, dubbed internally as the “Future Workplace, Now.” It includes a mix of hands-on and face-to-face learning, as well as online training. All graduates have access to a global learning platform called diSCover, which offers training in areas such as sustainable finance, digital banking and cybersecurity. To support career growth and personal development, the bank also encourages feedback via a digital tool – last month it hosted a ‘Feedback5’ challenge, encouraging all employees to provide feedback weekly for five weeks.
Harriet Skipworth, director of learning and development at Oliver Wyman, says “the pandemic has sparked new initiatives,” like enrolling in Degreed, a platform that enables just-in-time e-learning. The heavy use of video conferencing has also changed the way the consulting firm thinks about training. “The benefits of quick breakouts, polls, popping something into Zoom chat is something we keep in mind as we design new programs now,” says Skipworth.
Technology can even help teach soft skills and reinforce learning. Dominic Putt, learning and development expert at PwC, says it is online platform relies on cognitive science and machine learning to provide users with tailored questions.
“If we want people to change their behavior, they have to remember what to do differently,” he says. Regular refreshers help learners retain information longer and build new habits.
When used well, technology can also complement classroom training by helping graduates prepare. Putt cites the example of learners watching theory and technique videos before meeting with their peers and moving on to sessions “with actors playing different characters so people practice how they might react.”
At Deloitte, junior professionals develop speaking and professional writing skills through offsite programs and virtual workshops. Using the company’s Toastmasters network, they can practice public speaking and presentation skills in a virtual environment.
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The company is also creating a new website to support training and educate employees about its culture. A report from Leeds University Business School, which looks at the distance trainee experience, recommends employers to promote aspects of corporate culture online, such as ‘etiquette and norms’ relating to communication and formality, and ‘examples of company values in practice’ .
However, advocates of a return to the office argue that teaching online is limited. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon did particularly loud on the need for young recruits to learn by osmosis – easier to do when people can eavesdrop on conversations and observe experienced colleagues at meetings or negotiations. “Without being close to people, it’s very difficult to learn these job skills,” says Hirst, who advocates a mix of remote and office work.
The risk of working from home too much, says Helen Hughes, Associate Professor at Leeds University Business School and co-author of the report distance internship is that young recruits do not understand workplace norms.
She says some of the interns she interviewed struggled to manage their workload because they found it difficult “to understand that when they couldn’t compare their experience to their peers in the office, it’s normal to have ups and downs.”
The research also found that while young workers were rapidly acquiring digital skills, this “hidden deep-rooted insecurities about working life in general. . .[making]The challenges faced by employees are harder for organizations to identify and address,” says Hughes.
Some graduates who started at Oliver Wyman during the pandemic will repeat parts of their training. “The model of education is so much more difficult to manage [remotely]’ says Skipworth. But Charlie Ball, senior adviser on labor market intelligence at Jisc, a UK-based not-for-profit technology provider, says office-based learning is not an argument for forcing younger workers to go back to full-time work. “By and large, younger workers like hybrid work,” he says.
Employers’ insistence that osmotic learning can only be facilitated by a return to the office can smack of “laziness” on the part of employers, says Hirst. “The youngest person in a meeting will very often only be in one meeting. The advice, spoken or unspoken, is easy to observe and learn. It takes very little effort or imagination to give this person a clear role without pretending to be the chief strategy officer. Give them a slide to present, ask their opinion—the return can be beneficial.”
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