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Building Future Talent: A 21 Year Case Study

When asked what pressing issues keep CEO’s awake at night 38% of the 1 291 CEOs from 85 countries surveyed in PwC’s 21st annual global CEO survey indicated that the availability of key skills is a worry for them.  This concern is mirrored in the South African Graduate Employer Association’s (SAGEA) 2017 Employer Benchmarking study among 99 major graduate employers.  50% of employers stated that competition for graduates is their most pressing challenge – 38% indicated that their second biggest challenge is around graduate skill shortages.  Sourcing skilled young talent is challenging – but not impossible!  A case in point is Standard Bank’s highly successful graduate programme which has made significant inroads into addressing the bank’s current and future talent requirements.

It all began in 1997 when the bank hired its first ten graduates.  Conditions were very different back then – graduate supply exceeded demand, there was hardly the technology capability to track individual careers, and there was a tendency for people to stay with companies for longer than is currently the trend. Circumstances have changed significantly over 21 years – the competition for graduates and the level of investment and professionalism in campus attraction campaigns has grown from a fledgling industry to a specialised capability across industries. The power has shifted from the employer to the graduate, the very best of whom enjoy ample choice among potential employers.  Despite this, Standard Bank have taken on an incredible 1 591 graduates over the programme’s 21-year duration.

The 2018 programme will accommodate 197 graduates in 22 programmes in South Africa and a further 39 in 6 programmes in the bank’s Africa Regions.  Engaging with far greater numbers of graduates is very much technology-enabled.  There is more emphasis now on tracking data and using this as a strategic tool to enhance the quality of not only the graduates but the programme itself.  Gone are the days when the bank looked for a specific qualification to fill a specific role – there have been significant shifts towards sourcing young talent with a more diverse set of qualifications and greater adaptability to fill roles with individuals who can adapt what they have learned to a set of constantly changing requirements.

Retention Trends
The bank’s graduate retention is remarkable – and surprising given the constant buzz about millennials as a “flighty” generation!  82% of graduates have remained with the bank for six years or longer, and 36% have had tenure of ten years or more.  This outstanding record may be attributed to several factors:

  • Youth will always choose to be part of a purpose that resonates with their personal aspirations and offers them meaningful work. Africa is our home, and the bank is committed to growth on our continent. Growth and opportunity ring true for all the bank’s people, and this inspires their graduates to stay.
  • The bank’s programmes have provided for increased mobility between different business units as well as providing significant opportunities for early decision-making roles for entrepreneurship-driven young talent.
  • Financial stability is not yet old-fashioned. Young South Africans regard financial security as important and working for a company that can provide this has had a positive effect on retention.

Sourcing Graduates
As demand for greater diversity in graduate skill has increased, so have the bank’s efforts to be present and source graduates from all South Africa’s public and private Institutions of Higher Learning.  Standard Bank holds the view that our HEI’s are well equipped to provide young talent and that in their experience graduates have out-performed the general population.  Technology such as social media has enabled much more direct access to graduates than used to be the case.

Feedback from Graduates
Asking for and acting on feedback from graduates is one of the golden threads contributing to sustainability. High levels of engagement through on-boarding and the early establishment of extensive networks within the bank are highly valued by today’s graduates.  Young talent is often pleasantly surprised by the kinds of opportunities the bank exposes them to early on, and they enjoy planned rotations which facilitate access to the many different career opportunities available within the bank.  Much of the graduates’ early exposure is coupled with mentoring and support as they learn and develop.  Although gaining international experience is on the wish list of many graduates the bank has learned that providing this too early is not optimal and that there is a preference for this to be delayed beyond the first year on a graduate programme.  An aspect which could be further refined is the extent of hand-holding that is required – rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach graduates would appreciate a more customised approach depending on individual needs – providing support is just as important as knowing when to step back!

Selecting graduates to build the talent pipeline
Graduate selection has changed over 21 years – as it should! Graduate programmes need to respond to changing ways of work and provide future talent for emerging professional skills as well as strategic leadership; this has required the bank to be forward thinking in the competencies they look for and to recognise the technical field of study as relevant but not sufficient to future-proof the business.  A good example would be that IQ was a best practice consideration 20 years ago – this has expanded to a holistic emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual, their emotional maturity, and attitude.  Being self-aware, the ability to problem solve both in and outside your area of specialty and being open to feedback are key selection criteria nowadays.

Executive Buy-In
Performance and people development has always been entrenched in Standard Bank’s DNA and, in many ways, the graduates have strengthened their own value proposition through consistent high performance. The trick has been in re-designing and reinventing the graduate programme to meet business needs and, luckily, executive buy-in has never wavered in 21 years.

Why Build Talent?
The question of whether to build or buy talent is an important one for any organisation to consider and both options come with a price tag. The greatest lesson for Standard Bank has been that “there is beauty in consistency – graduate development is a long-term strategy and something employers should never stop investing in.” The proof is in the pudding – the bank has built up an incredible track record over 21 years and the retention and loyalty of their graduates speaks volumes.  One less thing for this CEO to worry about at night!

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