At a recent forum of Grad Hero Hub members, we discussed this further, and this blog is a summary of some of the insights from that session.

Over recent years, retention data hasn’t changed much.  When I looked at Australian Association of Graduate Employers data from 2017 compared to 2021 the number of graduates retained after one year, two years and three years was very similar.  So why is retention such a hot topic right now?  Because so far 2022 has been a year like no other.

Everyone seems to have experienced lower application numbers, higher turnover and had to work harder to engage grads in their program. 

Already this year in my program, we have lost 10% of our cohort which is up from 3% in previous years.  Members reported similar outcomes, with the two main reasons being either late or new offers from other grad programs, or grads being offered higher paying roles (not grad roles) in other organisations.

This has forced me to think differently about how I track and report on retention.  For example, I’ve started to break down retention metrics within the duration of the program (e.g., 6 monthly intervals), just to get a better idea of whether there is a point in time that retention becomes more challenging.

Other retention metrics are also valid and can provide insights such as tracking your candidates from formal offer to starting the program, as well as how long they stay post-completion of the program.  You can also track the retention of your interns (those that stay with you) and how many accept graduate offers.

Metrics are great obviously, but the most important thing is what story they tell you.  Sometimes you need to dig a little deeper into the data to truly understand what is happening and why.  I approach my metrics as indicators, rather than an assessment of whether my program is successful or not.   They just prompt me to ask questions, find out more and to share what’s happening with the business (and how the business can help).

And, what does good retention look like?  Sorry, but I don’t think there is a clear answer to that question, as there are so many variables that can influence outcomes.  For example, if you have a smaller cohort all located in the same city, then it is much easier as a Program Manager to have one-on-one conversations and to build trust (i.e., so you can find out what’s happening before they decide to leave).  When you have a large program with grads located across multiple locations, you do rely much more on technology to help you keep in touch with what’s happening.  I personally would expect that what success looks like in these two scenarios would be different.

I also believe that (longer) retention should not be the deciding factor on whether you continue to invest in an early careers program in your organisation (yes, I’m talking to you CEO’s!).

Here’s some of the mitigating actions we discussed to help improve retention and the ROI of your program:

  • Regular check-ins with participants and their leaders
  • Pulse check/survey your participants (track engagement, motivation etc.)
  • Build in some flexibility in the program to allow for participants who progress more quickly
  • Exposure to a variety of roles (or parts of the business)
  • Support participants to build their internal network (including buddies, mentors etc.)
  • Invest in leader training and support
  • Simplify the internal hiring/promotion process
  • Support further study options
  • Allow for career breaks or secondments
  • Conduct exit interviews (find out reasons for leaving)
  • Embed wellbeing into the strategy and program structure (rather than as a standalone initiative)
  • Review your attraction and recruitment strategy, are you providing realistic job previews, are you selecting the right people for your roles/business, have you been clear about the program purpose and participant outcomes.

One final thought….I will always support a graduate’s individual choice for where they want their career to go.  As long as I know I have provided the information, skills, and opportunities for them to explore their career options while they are with me, then I am happy.

An early career program is not only a great opportunity for an organisation to bring in new talent to help support the overall talent strategy, but it also plays a critical role in supporting the broader early career talent ecosystem for all organisations.  If we are all helping to develop this talent, then we all benefit when recruiting more experienced people.

So, while it’s nice to have great retention, we are all equally benefiting from some of our grads moving around too!

Would love to hear your insights and welcome you to join the conversation on Grad Hero Hub here: