NZAGE – the start of an era

The inaugural New Zealand Association of Graduate Employers Summit “Leaders of the Future” took place on Tuesday this week in Auckland and I started writing this piece on the late night flight back to Wellington after a long but superb day spent totally immersed in all things graduate recruitment.

As I reflected on the day’s events, my first thought was how remarkable it was that an organization that didn’t exist 12 months ago had arrived with such a bang and with some 90 plus attendees from over 60 organisations.  In addition to Kiwi delegates, and thanks to the Australian version of this conference held the week before in Melbourne, we had industry experts from several countries and a smattering of Aussies. It was good to have their input and hear their thoughts on global trends.  The day was a mix of expert, employer and student discussion panels, workshops and the great Tim Wise sharing Australasian graduate trends and survey statistics with us.

This piece was going to be a detailed analysis of what was discussed and why (hey, I’m new to this blogging lark), but I decided instead to focus on the key take aways that either surprised, frustrated or alarmed me. So in no particular order, here goes:

  • It was said that at least 120 organisations in this little country of four million recruit graduates. That isn’t anywhere near enough.  Only three Government departments were represented at the summit.  I was lucky enough to present a workshop on developing future leaders and one of the examples of best practice I gave was the UK Civil Service Fast Stream Programme.  This is one of the best world-class models of leadership development.  Meanwhile on this side of the world most departments/agencies do not have a graduate programme of any description. This is a national scandal. How can we expect to retain our best and brightest if there is nowhere for them to go when they graduate?
  • And before anyone accuses me of public sector bashing, we are not immune from criticism in the HR community. How many of us in New Zealand ever offer entry-level HR roles to recent graduates or do anything with our local universities? Nowhere near enough is the answer. We need to take a look at ourselves in HR.
  • Such is the competition for the best graduates, reneging on offers is a growing issue. Not quite as bad as it is in Australia yet, but seems to be becoming culturally acceptable even amongst graduates. Hell, I’ve even done it myself so I can’t criticize but at least I bothered to tell my unfortunate prospective employer that I had decided to go elsewhere and explain why. Apparently many of those students simply don’t turn up for work on the first day therefore denying a job to someone who could have replaced them!
  • Despite all the Gen Y hype of recent years which has really turned out to be largely inaccurate, Grads are looking for ongoing development and are happy to stay with the same employer to get it. If you don’t put the effort in to develop and promote them they won’t stay. Simple. Are our development programmes good enough?
  • NZ employers are increasingly bypassing the university careers services to get to students, either because they are unhappy with the service provided or the fees they have to pay. Internet and mobile technology has opened up different ways of reaching and engaging with students very cheaply and so they go via student associations, through websites like Grad Connection or industry bodies such as NZICA. It’s a more connected world and the universities need to up their game in that regard.
  • Unlike our larger and better funded colleagues across the Tasman and around the world, the graduate recruitment community in NZ all do this part-time and have other full-time roles through the year such as being busy HR practitioners or in-house recruiters. We don’t have the luxury of being dedicated grad recruitment teams nor do we have big budgets to do it. We seem to get by on a combination of passion, adrenalin and creativity.
  • Collaboration is good. To get ninety (sometimes competing) employers, suppliers and university careers staff in a room networking, sharing ideas and examples of great work they are doing is a really good thing and it works.
  • The people you only know from Twitter or LinkedIn are every bit as nice as they seem online when you meet them in the flesh.
  • Sound bite of the day – Grads are more likely to reach their potential if you take them right out of their comfort zone from day one.
  • As for my own session, it was an honour to be asked to facilitate a workshop and we had some healthy discussions about the need to both recruit differently and think differently about how we develop graduates if we want them to be future leaders of our organizations. We generally recruit graduates to be contributors rather than leaders in this country and not everyone wants to be a leader. But with the small exception of some of our larger companies, very few employers are even thinking about it. And we wonder why leadership in New Zealand is generally so poor. Something needs to change here. I will cover my thoughts on the current state of leadership in my next blog.

Overall then, a big tick for NZAGE’s coming out party. Check out the great Twitter summary of #NZAGE12 if you want to learn more about what was discussed.  I think we can safely say that this will be a permanent fixture in the HR/Recruitment conference calendar from now on. This is one event that will grow and grow. Well done to everyone (all volunteers of course) who helped organize the day. Looking forward to next year already.

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