College-Hire Orientation and Assimilation: The Key to Productivity and Retention

At Applied Materials Corporations in California, new college graduates find themselves entering a rich program designed to help them become productive, networked, and knowledgeable about the products and services Applied offers. They are placed in a special program, work for several different “bosses, and rotate through a number of jobs during the year they participate. National Semiconductor has a similar program. The result is that college-hire turnover is very low. As companies trip over themselves to entice the about-to-graduate college student to come work for them, most neglect the ongoing effort it takes to keep good students. The result is that many of these graduates will only stay with their first employer for a couple of years before moving on. In some firms, 30% of the college hires leave within the first 2 years. While there are many reasons that college hires give for leaving, there are really only two that stand out. The first is that they are not happy with their manager or assignment. And the second is that they don’t see any opportunity to advance to greater responsibilities. These are really two sides of the same coin, and either reason may cause the other one to become reality. This generation of college students is very different from those of past years. As I have pointed out in previous articles on the generations at work, the things that motivate those workers from the ages of 26 on down are quite different from the things that motivated those who are older. And the older you are, the more difficult it is for you to understand the degrees of difference. A well-designed assimilation program can help to avoid the situations that lead to turnover by equipping new graduates with career and organizational skills to help them manage their careers within your organization. The best programs are collaboratively designed with a team of recent graduates, line managers, internal employee communications staff and people representing both recruiting and development. This team should focus on the things that connect directly to helping the new college hire do a better job. This means that new employees should understand the products and services that your organization offers; they should appreciate the history and roots of the company so that they can evaluate customer and product issues in light of this history; and they should know who the key contributors are in the organization. Here are a few tips on constructing a world-class program to assimilate or orient your new college hires.

  1. Use e-learning and the Internet extensively. This is the generation born of bits and bytes. They hardly read (look at newspaper readership among this group, which is the lowest it has ever been). They watch lots of television, go to lots of movies, use the Internet all the time and probably all play some sort of video game. This generation is the one that will define where e-learning goes and how fast. This is a generation that sends electronic postcards and email messages to family and friends. They don’t even know where to buy a postage stamp. They like to learn from each other informally over the Internet and your efforts to impart culture and history should be embedded in some sort of e-learning format.
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  3. Educate managers deeply about the generational issues they may encounter as well as on the need to provide meaningful work. Many recent surveys show that the relationship with the first manager is one of the most significant relationships of their career. They will often model themselves after this first manager and will absorb his or her habits to a large degree. This makes it critical to have good managers assigned to the new hires and to take time to educate them on their role and its importance to your organization.
  4. Assign mentors or coaches to each new college hire for the first 90 days of employment. These mentors should be younger individual contributors in your firm who are exemplars of the kind of behavior and results orientation your firm would like all its employees to exhibit. The role of these mentors can be very simple – as simple as going to lunch once a week with the new hire to show them the ropes and transmit some of the tacit culture that is never articulated or often even acknowledged. These mentors are the vehicles to educate the new college hires, and they should be trained to serve as listeners who can intervene with a manager if an issue arises. They need to be respected and well-networked in the organization.
  5. Help them build a social network. Lonely people are not good workers or happy campers. They tend to perform less effectively and leave sooner than those who have strong social networks and friends. As college hires often come from a variety of backgrounds and geographies, they will not have many friends to talk to or with whom to share problems. While no organization can provide made-to-order friends, they can create clubs or sponsor events where the new college hires can meet each other socially. In the organizations where I have seen these social activities develop, loyalty and productivity are higher and turnover lower. Who we know and how well we know them are strong attractors and influence our decisions to tolerate a bit of adversity or simply move on.

None of these tips are particularly difficult to execute, but they can pay off handsomely. Good assimilation programs pay for themselves in short order and breed a kind of loyalty that cannot be bought. <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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