• Kishen Karia, Assistant Manager |
  • Jasper Wong, Analyst |
6 min read

Our view is that a graduate scheme or apprenticeship is a valuable initiative for many ambitious organisations, forming an important basis for their success. Such programmes provide opportunities for early-in-career professionals who are agile, innovative, and eager to learn. At KPMG UK, nearly one-third of our client-facing people are on such programmes, highlighting that much of our workforce is occupied by early-in-career talent.

Having experienced the graduate scheme at KPMG in the UK, we provide our personal views and explore five key areas that we feel leadership at organisations should consider for making such programmes beneficial for both early-in-career professionals and the organisation.

1) How can a graduate scheme or apprenticeship set the foundations for a successful career?

The programme should lay a solid foundation for a long career, setting up the graduate or apprentice for success and progression beyond an entry-level role. Whether the programme is technical or generic, it should expose them to personnel and sectors across a broad spectrum with topic areas and roles aligned to their interests. This allows early-in-career talent to acquire a diverse skill set and broader network whilst enabling them to influence and navigate their own careers.

We understand that there are a variety of programmes out there, some which build deep technical skills and others that build a broad range of business skills. Therefore, we feel that it is important for organisations to make these pathways clear to early-in-career professionals and recognise the need to be flexible to empower talent to take charge of their careers. Leadership should consider providing opportunities for placements in a variety of roles from different areas of the business, enforcing time limits in rotations, and selecting roles/projects that support career ambitions and interests. 

2) How can you encourage learning and development?

Learning opportunities such as upskilling courses, professional qualifications, and apprenticeships are attractive to many seeking early-in-career programmes. Those looking to pursue these opportunities require protected time for learning in different environments such as classrooms and online sessions. New graduates and apprentices need flexible learning pathways that touch upon various core and technical subject areas offering choices to steer their careers and begin their journey to specialisation.

In our day-to-day roles, the majority of learning is done on the job, therefore we feel there need to be opportunities to engage in different types of work across a multitude of teams. Early-in-career professionals need to be encouraged to try new things and apply skills acquired through the various discussed learning opportunities with support offered to bridge any shortcomings in knowledge.

3) How can you effectively manage early-in-career performance?

Each graduate or apprentice needs a performance manager who helps them navigate their career in the right direction. Performance Managers should adopt a continuous performance management approach that focuses on development whilst ensuring performance is in line with expectations from leadership. This should ideally involve regular check-in meetings with the graduate or apprentice, performance manager and their working colleagues (managers and peers) where frequent real-time feedback is gathered, goals are developed, progress is tracked, and expectations are clearly set. This not only allows early-in-career talent to demonstrate their performance but also encourages continuous development, promoting a growth mindset across the graduate and apprentice community.

Through our experience, we find that meetings should take place at least monthly, with additional meetings as and when required. Our view is that when continuous performance management is done right, it builds trust and transparency between early-in-career talent and leadership, as outcomes such as promotions and performance ratings are aligned with the expectations set regularly throughout the performance management process.

4) How can you help graduates and apprentices transition into the team?

The programme starts from the moment offers have been made; therefore, onboarding should be well thought out as it will set the tone for the entire programme. It is an opportunity for organisations to welcome their new talent and communicate growth prospects and expectations, making them enthusiastic to start their career journey. Onboarding can include activities such as induction and community events, facilitation of buddies and mentors with future team members, and communications spanning from firm/department news to extracurricular activities. Furthermore, organisations need to ensure there are provisions in place for in-person collaboration with the team as opportunities to meet in person may otherwise be limited in the new age of hybrid working. These interactions can allow early-in-career talent to understand their new team members on a more personal level, breaking down barriers and inspiring camaraderie. Once talent has landed, in-person collaboration also enables fundamental development activities such as learning, shadowing and coaching to happen more organically, where such activities can be more challenging in a virtual setting.

We have found that as early-in-career professionals, we thrive off a positive and inclusive team culture, where senior team members invest in us, and encourage us to take on responsibilities outside of hierarchical structures. For us, these have included opportunities to work alongside and present to senior team members and clients, being actively encouraged to provide thought and input ‘without fear of judgement’ for important decisions and being given the chance to showcase our individual talents. We personally have found these opportunities have helped us develop confidence, gave us purpose, empower us to bring our own perspectives and left us feeling embedded into the wider team.

5) How can you acquire diverse graduate and apprentice talent?

Diverse teams are proven to be more productive and innovative, and each graduate or apprentice can bring a unique set of skills, talent and perspectives to add value to your organisation. A fair and transparent recruitment process is key to acquiring diverse early-in-career talent. Therefore, job expectations and requirements of each stage of the process need to be detailed and clear, and any bias removed from the process. Recruitment should be targeted across a wide range of universities, schools, colleges, and educational backgrounds complemented with measures such as blind CV screening, standardisation of assessments & interviews, and unconscious-bias training for all interviewers/assessors to further equal opportunity.

Additionally, the assessment criteria should be carefully considered to factor in assessing for potential, behaviours and strengths rather than be solely focused on prior attainment or achievements that can be limiting in a diverse early-in-careers talent pool. We strongly believe that such measures give prospective talent the fairest chance to demonstrate their suitability.

Realised mutual benefits from a successful programme

The suggested areas are ways in which organisations can maximise their graduate and apprenticeship programmes, enabling enthusiastic and diverse talent to develop skills and deliver value. Furthermore, organisations are able to build a sustainable workforce for the future, as graduates and apprentices have a solid foundation from which they can grow into future leaders for the business. They are also more likely to be loyal and stay within the organisation as they seek career progression.

Thus, by delivering a successful programme, all those involved benefit; graduates and apprentices gain a strong start to their careers and organisations realise short-term and long-term rewards from investment in their future talent.

If you have any questions on the above or want to discuss how we can help you deliver an early-in-career programme, please reach out to Kishen Karia.

For more information on KPMG's early-in-career programmes including graduate and apprentice openings please visit our careers website.