Soraya Shaw, Managing Director of Springboard Coaching, looks at how recruiters can attract and retain graduates from generation Y.

As mortar boards are thrown in the air this month, firms across the UK will be looking to attract this year’s influx of graduates. Many companies will offer a range of incentives for graduates such as early international postings, a company car, bonuses, free laptops, not to mention attractive salaries. But material benefits are only one part of inspiring and retaining the most talented individuals of generation Y. With around 40 per cent expecting to leave their first job within two years* what is the key to recruiting the best of today’s new graduates and retaining their enthusiasm?

This year’s graduates are looking for a chance to make a difference through their professional life. This is creating a preference for organisations that make a positive impact through their work, such as those with an environmental remit, as well as the charity sector. Ethically-led business practices, social responsilibity and environmental policies have become a real asset for recruiters. Building a positive internal culture in which every recruit has the chance to make their mark and maintaining a strong reputation as an ethical business will help you become more of a graduate magnate.

Nurture and develop

Many new graduates can find the move from education to the world of work a difficult step and they need a supportive culture in which they can flourish and develop to ease the transition.

The education system is often accused of not preparing graduates for the impending change in their lifestyle, but the private sector may be equally to blame by stifling graduates who are still eager to learn despite finishing their studies. Starting graduates off with boring tasks to help them learn the ropes can deflate their enthusiasm and stifle creativity. After a few weeks of having their ideas ignored people tend to stop coming up with them. To attract the best graduates you need to prove this sad situation won’t happen and illustrate an environment that encourages initiative and breeds success.

Companies that seek to attract the highest end of the graduate crop need to be more flexible and accommodating to their needs. Today’s graduates have been nicknamed generation Y to signify people born after 1980 and there is a noticeable trend amongst this age group in wanting more flexibility and a better work-life balance than previous generations. This has caused some criticism amongst employers, who see generation Y as too demanding, yet as these new graduates have a lot to give and there are benefits to be had in adapting to their needs. Happy generation Y workers stand to be more creative and more innovative, so new ways of structuring work may need to be found.

Nurturing graduate employees and utilising the alternative thinking processes adopted by universities is a great way to attract and retain talented individuals.

Create a strong internal culture

New recruits want to be given the opportunity to make their mark from the moment they start their prospective career. They want to have a voice and the chance to help steer the company into the future. This is not just about career opportunities; these individuals are ambitious and want to make a difference. It is important to listen to your new people and keep their enthusiasm high by appreciating their creativity and acting on their ideas.

Build your ethical principles

Instilling strong values and ethics that are lived throughout your organisation is a positive way to attract and retain the kind of talented employees that will be a part of the business’ future and feed into the continued sustainability and development of the company. Ambitious people want to be a part of something good.

A shared and positive company ethos can give your organisation an advantage over competitors who have perhaps not adapted to the needs and motivations of generation Y graduates. The ethos of the company needs to stem from the business-owner and must be upheld in everything that the company does — from procurement procedures to the way that both customers and employees are treated. This ethical approach can create a reputation that will attract potential recruits. If your company has a positive reputation and generally seen as a progressive company, attracting new graduates will be much easier.

Positive feedback also travels through academic communities via friendship groups and information streams like alumni newsletters, so treating new graduates well has a knock-on effect in attracting the next set of talent.

Embrace change

Some companies will need to make fundamental operational changes to attract and retain the most promising individuals amongst generation Y. Creating a strong internal culture where everyone’s ideas are welcomed and the best are acted upon is crucial. Also if new recruits have flexibility in their role and the chance to move horizontally across an organisation they can develop different skills and find their niche without moving to a new company. Playing to their strengths and allowing people to spend time on the projects they are most passionate about can also help them feel fulfilled and motivated.

A good salary is still important, especially because of debts built up from university, but more and more graduates are voicing a preference for working in an environment in which they can flourish and choosing a company that they can feel proud to be part of.

* The Sunday Times, 15 July 2007