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Rotational programmes and retention

Rotational Programmes: A comparison with international trends and the relationship between these programmes and retention

An article published in 2016 by NACE (the USA’s National Association of Colleges and Employers) highlighted the relationship between rotation programmes for graduates and their positive effect on retention rates. At the time, their Recruiting Benchmark Survey revealed that employers who offered graduates a rotational programme reported elevated retention rates. The one-year retention rate for graduates who had completed a rotational programme was 91.1%, compared to a 72.3% retention rate for graduates who had not completed rotations. Similarly, NACE’s 2018 research revealed a 92.7% one-year retention rate for graduates who were exposed to some form of rotation within the business – thus evidencing that there is a definite and continued correlation between rotations and the retention of graduates.

Similarly, the UK’s Institute of Student Employers’ (ISE) 2019 Development Survey reported that rotations remained a central feature of graduate development programs with 81% of employers offering some form of rotation to graduates. Rotations in the UK are typically 6 months long and vary between rotations within the same region, rotations to other regions in the UK and rotations overseas. Half of employers indicated that rotations are one of the most impactful forms of development offered to graduates.

Although we do not have ISE statistics that specifically compare graduate access to rotational programmes to their retention rate, the same survey reports an average retention rate of 74% three years after hire, and 60% five years after hire. Given that up to 80% of employers are offering rotational programmes we can probably infer some sort of positive correlation between the two!

So, what happens in South Africa?  The SAGEA (South African Graduate Employers Association) Graduate Development and Retention Insights study of 2017* gathered information from 90 employers across 22 sectors and revealed the following trends in rotational programmes:

  • Of 90 employers who participated in the study 72 Employers offered either placements, rotations, or secondments as part of their graduate development programme – i.e. 80%.
  • 41% of placements, rotations or secondments were offered in the same location i.e. probably between departments whilst 31.5% were offered in a different province. Just over one fifth offered international secondments to graduates.
  • Those employers who offered rotations varied the length of rotations as follows: 4% ran their rotations for between 4 and 6 months with 17.4% offering rotations of between 1 and 3 months.  Longer rotations of 7-12 months or more were offered by fewer employers.

*Note, this benchmarking study is run every second year and will be updated in the latter part of 2019.

Is there a correlation between rotational programmes and retention?

When comparing median overall retention rates over a five-year period between those employers who offer rotations and those who do not the SAGEA study revealed that there is some correlation between rotational programmes and retention with a minor difference between the first and second year of employment. However, when reviewing our data in years 3, 4 and 5 of employment there was a more significant correlation between retention and rotations.

Our survey also asked employers to indicate whether they used rotations as part of a specific retention strategy and to rate the effectiveness of rotations in positively influencing retention.  Half of employers offered rotations as part of their retention strategy with around a third of employers regarding this as an effective component of their retention strategy.

Our survey sample represents the top graduate employers in our market and these initial findings certainly indicate that there are positive spin offs when it comes to retention for those employers who can offer rotations, placements or secondments as part of their graduate development programme. Employers who run smaller graduate programmes may feel that building a programme of this nature is not a viable option but perhaps these findings are compelling enough to encourage creative thinking around ways to offer graduates rotational opportunities.

Benefits of building a rotational programme

Apart from the retention benefits discussed above, there are many additional advantages to offering young employees the opportunity to rotate.  These are as follows:

  • The variety afforded by rotations will keep employees motivated, challenged and engaged.
  • Rotational opportunities will help you to identify and/or test employees’ skills in different roles.
  • Offering rotational opportunities will help graduates to identify what type of work they enjoy most or are best suited to perform.
  • Young talent are afforded the opportunity to develop skills and experience which may be beneficial to them in future (leadership) roles.
  • Rotations facilitate cross-training as well as big picture understanding of how the business works.
  • Rotations facilitate networking within the business whilst increasing the flexibility of the workforce and enhancing team work across departments or divisions.

Essential Considerations when setting up a rotational programme

There are three core elements to setting up a successful programme:

  1. A clear purpose for the process – why are you doing this and what do you hope to achieve?
  2. Ensure a well laid out plan – how will rotations work? How long will rotations last?  What are the learning objectives for each rotation?  What skills and/or training will be needed for each component?  Is there meaningful work/projects for each stage of the rotation?  Who will be involved in the programme and will you have buy-in?
  3. How will you assess the effectiveness of the programme and measure success?

In conclusion, there are numerous benefits to offering a rotational programme as part of an overall graduate development programme – given these benefits it would be a worthwhile practice for employers with fewer graduates to be creative in setting up a small programme which offers flexibility and can be grown in the future.

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