Occasionally I speak with businesses who say ‘we don’t do that’ when asked about employing graduates. There can sometimes be good reasons for this, but often when I investigate further it is due to a misapprehension. Other times it may just be something that they have not considered, as they assumed that it was not relevant for them. It’s a shame, as they are can be missing out on the many benefits that graduates have brought to other small businesses. And graduates are for SMEs, too.

These are some of the main things that I hear:

Graduates won’t want to work with us: Over 99% of the businesses in the UK are SMEs. Many graduates do already work for a smaller business. Not all graduates want to work with, or are suited to, the bigger employers. A career with a SME can offer a huge range of advantages. Each job and business will have aspects that appeal to specific graduates, who would see this as fulfilling what they are looking for. The main difficulty can sometimes be in making those graduates aware of the opportunities that SMEs have. Particularly when up against the high-profile, larger graduate employers.

We are only small in numbers: Over the years many of the businesses I have placed graduates with have had less than 10 members of staff. Being small in numbers is not in itself a reason not to hire a graduate.

Graduates will not stay with us long-term: In terms of long-term commitment, it’s more about assessing what the future prospects are in the role and getting the right match for the individual graduate’s level of expectation. For example, you may be looking for someone to develop as a future Director. Or you may simply want someone who will do a solid, steady job for you and not have an eye on their next role. While some have the ambition and capability to develop as leaders, others are not overly ambitious. Having said that, most will want to be challenged and develop new skills to some extent. So you will be able to add new duties to their job as time goes on.

We don’t have a graduate scheme in place: There is no need for a formal graduate scheme, or even to have a training department. The huge graduate employers have well-honed training schemes in place, with a new intake each year. And staff whose job is to manage the process. SMEs are generally not able to do this, and a graduate role can be similar to a standard vacancy in many ways. With start-dates being as and when there is a need. And graduates generally learning on the job.

What is a graduate job?: Again, it doesn’t need to be anything specific, and can be related to most jobs. Often you can look at your current jobs and work backwards, thinking of which bits of knowledge can be trained. This can be particularly useful where there is a lack of experienced candidates. Graduates who have some related work experience have always been popular with employers; and even more so now, as many industry sectors have a shortage of experienced candidates. Don’t rule out those whose work experience is not directly related. And if you are looking for much more than a year or so’s directly related experience then it’s not really a graduate role.

We don’t have time to train graduates:  The graduates I work with all have some kind of work experience, and are generally able to pick things up quickly. Training can be on the job, and bit by bit. You do need someone to train them, and will need to invest time in this, but they won’t require constant supervision. And even if it’s a line manager who is doing the training, there should be things that the graduate can take on that will save time in other ways.

We tried it before and it didn’t work out: I can understand the frustration that this would have caused. But many other businesses have had positive experiences, and it’s a shame to let it stop you taking on more graduates. It’s important to get the right person at the selection and interview stage to make sure there is a good mutual match. Then to make sure the graduate is supported when they start. It may be worth thinking back to see if something related to this could have been improved last time. Or it could simply have been down to bad luck- when dealing with people it won’t go smoothly 100% of the time.

We need a special type of experience: This is understandable, as it can take time to train people, particularly in some highly technical roles. But there will only be a set amount of people who have this experience- so you are constantly fishing in the same pool (if indeed there is anyone available). You could have issues in the future with succession planning, and may also be missing out on the benefits that a more diverse workforce can bring. The experienced staff were trainees once, so it could be worth looking at training up some fresh talent. You might be surprised how quickly they pick things up (and there are a huge range of degree types, so there should be something with a bit of relevance to build on).

We can’t commit to taking on someone permanently: You may want to consider an internship. This can be anything from 3-12 months. This is also an option to consider if you have a piece of work to be done that existing staff don’t have the time or specific skills to complete. You could also see how things go and assess whether there is scope for the role to be permanent.

We focus on apprenticeships: Graduates can be eligible for apprenticeships. But even if you are focusing on school or college-leavers, there could still be a role to play for graduates with other roles: especially if you need someone with a bit more knowledge and experience than a school-leaver at any time.

I have years of experience in placing students and graduates with SMEs, and can help you find the right students and graduates. I am always happy to discuss this in more depth.

Matthew Parry,
Director. SME Graduate Employment

Email: matthew@sme-graduates.co.uk Telephone: 0370 774 9500

Graduates are for SMEs too