How to ensure diverse strengths with lockdown-affected graduates

Attracting and retaining the right mix of university and college graduates is fundamental to driving a diverse pipeline of talent for any organisation. But this year, it’s more complicated.

The impact of Covid on the university experience means that this year’s new graduate intake has had less opportunity to develop the workplace-essential skills of face-to-face social interaction.

And this brings the risk of a diversity gap if HR teams don’t modify their attraction and onboarding strategies.

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Covid-19’s impact on graduate hiring strategy

Covid led to lockdown and lockdown led to a fully remote experience for many in further and higher education.

Which in turn has led to a delay for these graduates in developing face-to-face skills during their university and college years.

Under normal conditions, students would feel ready for work because of the variety of social experiences that college and university bring. But this year, that’s not the case.

As a group, this year’s cohort of graduate employees will be more disconnected and will feel less supported than other years and will find it more difficult to adjust to a professional workplace mindset as a result.

How this issue will show up for each new entrant to the world of work will depend on two things:

  1. Whether the employer is set up for fully remote, hybrid or full time on site working.
  2. The extent to which the employee is naturally energised by activities based around social connection, such as collaborating, relationship-building, leading, persuading or caring for others.

Let’s put this into a strength context, an approach being adopted by more and more employers, and particularly in the graduate and early careers space.

If we see our strengths as sources of energy which naturally motivate and drive us and where we’re likely to have natural skill too, we can see some differences emerging across the graduate group.

Some graduates will have fewer relational strengths.

Instead, their strengths may fall more into the bracket of ‘execution’ or ‘thinking. 

For these early careerists, the transition into a full-time on-site setting will be more challenging, and possibly less attractive, than for those whose natural strengths fall more into the ‘relational’ realm.

The opposite is true for those heading into exclusively remote working organisations.

For these new workers, those with ‘thinking’, or ‘execution’-focused, strengths will find an easier natural fit than those who are motivated by the more relational side of work, who may find themselves less engaged and less motivated to do their best work.

So, for strategic HR teams considering their talent acquisition strategy for the 2023 graduate intake, an awareness of how these areas of office environment and individual strengths interact will be crucial if they are to maintain a diverse talent pipeline.

What can HR teams do practically to mitigate the risk of unconsciously reducing strengths diversity? Here are three options:

  • Both employers and graduates should develop an awareness of each new employee’s strengths to ensure that the right type of personalised support is provided. This will help employees develop confidence and abilities that would previously have been kick started in higher or further education.

  • Ensure that the workplace is organised to retain graduates with a diversity of strengths by providing sufficient opportunity for each employee’s strengths to be put to work each day, through strengths-based role-crafting and supportive line management.

  • Communicate that this level of thought has gone into workplace and onboarding design strategies when attracting new candidates so that graduates with all strength-sets continue to be attracted to work in organisations that at first glance may not appear to offer a close fit with their strengths.

This focus on awareness and strategy is essential in 2023 to ensure organisations maintain strengths diversity of those entering work for the first time.

This in turn will drive the continued diversity of teams and future management and leadership pipelines. All of which are essential to long-term success.

Paul Brewerton is a chartered psychologist and founder of Strengthscope