Tuesday 12 November 2019

Companies still seeking our best and brightest third-level graduates

Despite the recession, many of Ireland's leading businesses will be recruiting large numbers of college-leavers this year. With many other traditional employers not hiring, they will have their pick of the country's young talent, writes George Garvey

DURING the boom years, students graduating from our universities and other third-level institutions were spoiled for choice. Not any longer. The bursting of the bubble economy has meant that many traditional recruiters of young graduates are effectively out of the market.

The construction industry is a mere shadow of its former self, while the public state sector is also cutting back on staff numbers. However, despite the economic blues, many Irish-based companies, both indigenous and foreign-owned, are continuing to recruit large numbers of graduates.

There are also clear signs that, after bottoming out about two years ago, graduate recruitment has picked up again, according to David Foster, director of the UCD Career Development Centre.

Food group Kerry, which has had a graduate recruitment programme since it was founded in the early 1970s, plans to recruit over 100 graduates this year, up from 40-50 a few years ago.

While the majority of these graduates will be recruited from Irish universities, some will also come from overseas institutions. Company spokesman Frank Hayes reckons that this will make Kerry one of the largest recruiters of graduates among Irish-owned companies.

Kerry is seeking to recruit graduates from a wide range of disciplines, including RDA (research, development and application), finance, information and communications technology, supply chain management, operations, human resources and engineering.

While a second language isn't essential, it would, given that Kerry now has facilities in 25 different countries, certainly be an advantage.

"We are looking for people with leadership skills who can also be part of a team. They must have drive and ambition, and be interested in career development. We like them to be mobile so that they can gain experience across the group," says Mr Hayes.

"We like people who are comfortable with all aspects of the business. They must have good, interpersonal skills, be capable of business development and have the capacity to lead."

Kerry isn't the only indigenous food company with a well-developed graduate recruitment programme. Glanbia established its own programme over a decade ago. It used to recruit an average of about 10 graduates a year. However, it is now ramping up its programme and is planning to recruit up to 20 graduates this year, according to Martin Costello, Glanbia's group HR manager.

Glanbia is looking for engineering, food science, IT, marketing, HR and supply chain graduates. It offers a two-year programme for graduates in non-financial roles and a three-year programme for those in financial roles, during which it is expected that they will achieve a professional qualification with one of the accountancy bodies.

The accountancy and consulting firms have traditionally been major recruiters of graduates. This year is no different. Deloitte is seeking to recruit up to 200 graduates in 2012. It is offering the new recruits three-and-a-half-year contracts in its auditing, tax, consultancy, corporate finance and enterprise risk services.

Software giant Microsoft also has a well-developed Irish graduate recruitment programme. It is seeking graduates for business and technical roles, including software development engineers, project engineers and business graduates.

Microsoft also operates an in-house MBA programme for some of its graduate recruits. In addition, it offers internships to students who have yet to complete their degrees.

It isn't just the big food companies, the accounting and consultancy firms, and the multinationals who have established their own structured graduate recruitment programmes.

Quoted bookie Paddy Power recently started its own programme.

"We launched it in 2010 and we started with four people. We will be recruiting 10 people this year," says Ciara Bolger, Paddy Power's emerging talent manager.

She explains that in addition to those who are hired under the graduate recruitment programme, Paddy Power also recruits other graduates for specialist roles within the firm. In total, it recruited 18 graduates last year and expects to take on another 25 this year.

Paddy Power is looking for graduates from a wide range of subjects. Apart from those with the traditional business and management-type degrees, it is also interested in hearing from people with qualifications in information systems, computer science, marketing, data analytics and e-commerce.

The company's risk department, which manages Paddy Power's exposures to different betting markets, is also looking to hire quantitative statistics and maths graduates.

For recent graduates contemplating applying for one of these recruitment programmes, a degree in a subject that meets the company's needs is only the first step. The "fit" between graduate and company also has to be right.

So, what attributes does Paddy Power seek in the graduates it recruits into its programme?

"They must be long-term ambitious. They must be passionate about the business and very competitive. They must be able to keep up with the pace. Those working in quantitative functions must be able to come up with new insights, while the others must be able to fit in with a team," says Ms Bolger.

While the accountancy and consultancy firms traditionally recruited graduates on an initial short-term contract, other employers have sought to hang on to the new arrivals. This isn't simply a case of altruism on the companies' part.

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to firstly select the right people and then to train them to a level where they are of value to the company. Having made this heavy upfront investment, companies want to receive a payback. The last thing an employer wants to see is the benefit of their investment going to a rival.

This means that retention rates are one of the key yardsticks for the success of any graduate recruitment programme. Kerry's long-established programme has a retention rate of more than 80pc.

"We have a two-year graduate development programme. We give them real jobs and real responsibilities at a very early stage. We fast-track them through very rewarding careers, and within a few years they are in middle- management positions," says Mr Hayes.

The success of its graduate recruitment programme means that Kerry has been able to grow its own corporate leadership. Current chief executive Stan McCarthy was one of the early graduate recruits, as are several of Kerry's other senior executives.

Paddy Power also works hard to retain its graduates. They are initially offered a 20-month contract. The retention rate is currently running at about 90pc.

"We put a lot of effort into them and we hope that people will take the opportunity of staying on," says Ms Bolger.

Glanbia also hopes to hang on to most of its graduate recruits, with a retention rate of close to 100pc.

IN recent years, the proportion of female graduates has risen sharply and now stands at over 50pc from most Irish third-level institutions.

So how have corporate recruitment programmes adapted to the rise and rise of the female graduate?

The gender balance in Kerry's graduate recruitment programme is about 50:50, according to Mr Hayes.

Maintaining gender balance isn't always as easy as it looks. While the overall proportion of female graduates is now running at well over 50pc, this is still not the case in many of the subjects being sought by employers.

"Many of the disciplines have traditionally been male-dominated. Up to now, we have mainly attracted interest from male applicants.

"We have to figure out ways of attracting more interest from female graduates," explains one corporate recruiter.

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