Early careers: What can organisations do to develop and retain graduates and apprentices?

Early careers

As organisations continue seeking solutions to the ongoing talent shortage, the need to successfully manage a multi-generational workforce becomes ever more important. Many businesses have lost older, more experienced employees during the pandemic, often missing out on the transfer of vital knowledge to others within the organisation. And while many businesses are struggling with untimely exits of their more experienced workers, the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found that companies are also losing more than a quarter of their graduates just three years after joining the organisation – the lowest retention rate since records began.

So, with people under 35 expected to make up 75% of the workforce by 2030, how can businesses reduce attrition amongst their newly-trained workforce? Leaders must begin refining their talent management strategies to ensure younger individuals choose to stay with their organisation, or risk being left without the talent needed for sustained success in the future.

But why are those in Early Careers not staying with their organisations?

ISE research found that low pay and poor workplace culture are the main reasons that 72% of organisations are failing to retain their younger workers; while a recent poll conducted by PwC found that younger employees are also lacking many of the key skills that organisations are looking for in their workforce, with Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC UK saying:

“We also need other skills that stand the test of time, such as empathy, resilience and agility. You can’t predict all the jobs that will exist in the future, but you can predict the mindset needed to adapt and be ready.”

More attention needs to be paid to developing soft skills in graduates and apprentices. Many of these individuals have joined the workforce in trying times, where remote working has severely altered their experience of the working world. And while this experience has undoubtedly helped these younger workers develop certain skills around adaptability and resilience, there often hasn’t been the communication available to explain how they can use their skills to secure a role beyond their training programme.

What can business leaders do to more effectively retain those at an early stage of their career?

Make internal development opportunities visible – Many organisations fail to include training on career ownership and managing internal opportunities within their graduate or apprenticeship schemes. This often results in individuals completing their training programmes with little visibility of opportunities to grow and develop internally. As a result, they’re choosing to leave the business and pursue roles very similar to what they’ve already done, rather than remaining with their current employer and growing their skills internally.

To combat this, businesses need to be transparent about the career opportunities available, helping individuals to see a future for themselves within the organization. Key to this is a line manager who is equipped to have regular, effective career conversations with their team members. These conversations can help employees understand and match their strengths and motivations to opportunities available within the organisation, while providing them with permission and encouragement to pursue these internal opportunities – even if its outside of their current team.

Equip them with the tools and confidence to navigate the internal recruitment process – Entering the workforce in a time of remote working means many younger employees have missed crucial opportunities to network and build relationships with their colleagues. This inability to properly integrate themselves within the organisation directly contributes towards a lack of understanding as to where they fit within the business upon completion of their training.

Providing graduates and apprentices with networking and integration opportunities will enable them to build confidence and connect with their colleagues more effectively. Those at an earlier stage of their career will then feel more confident to use their connections to explore internal opportunities that they’ve identified as being aligned with their specific skillset, generating an enhanced sense of belonging for the employee, while the business sees more graduates successfully transition into permanent roles.

Provide opportunities to develop soft skills – It’s crucial that graduates and apprentices have the opportunities to grow soft, transferable skills that they can implement in a number of roles once they’ve completed their training programme. Business leaders need to understand that younger employees are still trying to find their place in the world of work, and should be allowed to pursue a range of career pathways within the organisation.

Stretch projects and secondments to other teams are great ways to help these young employees gain experience, and a clear understanding of what they enjoy doing, and what they’re good at. Working across different teams, roles and departments will ensure individuals have the chance to develop a range of skills and knowledge that can be transferred to other roles – thus making for a more flexible and adaptable pipeline of future talent.


If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of investing in early careers and how Right Management can support you in doing so, watch our free webinar.