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How is HR supporting pandemic graduates in the workplace?

Young people who grew up and studied during the pandemic may require more support with confidence, communication and concentration according to experts.

For many recent graduates and school leavers, key school years or university experiences were spent studying remotely.  

Internships, work experience and networking were also done online, and at the start of a new job, they often did not meet their colleagues in person for months or years. 

According to a report from the Financial Times, this is leaving interns struggling to impress employers and establish meaningful connections. 

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Richard Waite, people and culture director and head of resourcing at business and financial advisory firm Grant Thornton said relationship building has been more difficult for pandemic cohorts. 

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Those who have joined the workforce since 2020 have had to rely on new ways to build networks and relationships within a business as there has been much more of a focus on hybrid working.  

“Collaboration is an important element of any role, and this is something that, when you’re new, can be harder initially, especially when this is being done digitally and without as much experience in navigating an organisation as those of us who were working pre-pandemic.” 

Waite said employers need to recognise that organic networking is new to many of these employees and adjust orientation for a hybrid world. 

He said: “Employers should focus on high quality orientations and appreciate that some of what used to be picked up organically in someone’s first few weeks in the office now might need to be more planned, structured and deliberate in its delivery. 

“It’s also important for employers to create an open culture where new starters can ask questions before they join, particularly for those who may not have people to turn to for advice in their personal networks who have worked in a corporate environment before. 

“Providing tips on office working, what to wear, how to study effectively for professional exams etc is key.”   

Zoom-generation employees may also need more prompting to build connections he said. 

 “Employers can look to create buddy programmes within the business to help accelerate new joiners to develop that important network within the business,” Waite added.  

“It’s also important to create opportunities for this connection building, both virtually and in-person, such as through an online coffee roulette programme or summer office/team socials.” 


Vicky Gallagher Brown, partner for HR at professional service network Deloitte, which hired 452 interns this year, said the pandemic has left a gap in confidence and communication skills not seen in other cohorts. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Graduates and school leavers who have had a more isolated university and school experience due to the pandemic may not have had the same opportunity to build confidence and communication skills as those that came before them.  

“Alongside this they may have only had minimal or virtual work experience, with less exposure to a corporate environment.” 

Gallagher Brown said Deloitte have had to adapt to support this generation in their entry to the working world. 

The firm introduced a new ‘early experience training week’, which provides a week of talks and skills sessions on topics such as networking, mental resilience, overcoming adversity and communication. 

New recruits can also expect a new induction process to learn about Deloitte’s brand, values and culture, as well as an allocated ‘buddy’ colleague who will help them settle in. 

Gallagher Brown said it is important that graduates feel a sense of community and belonging that they may have lacked in the fully remote world, adding: “We have always invested heavily in graduate and school leaver development. 

“Our onboarding helps them learn about us as a firm and what we do. Their buddy can answer any questions they may have, before they join to ensure they feel connected and welcomed.” 

Katherine Rathbone, head of HR at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said new graduates post-pandemic have more challenges with concentration, particularly when training for a new role. 

She said: "I think the pandemic definitely created struggles for young people entering the workplace for the first time.  

Online learning can be really effective, but when you're at home it's much easier to find things to distract yourself with, including emails, messages, phone calls and social media, making it more difficult to take in and retain information.  

"Not to say that online learning doesn't work, but I think the person taking part needs to be more disciplined, in a way, ensuring that what's on the screen has their full attention—and that's not always easy at home.” 

However, Sophie Manson, head of learning and development at the same firm, said there have also been some benefits to training new lawyers remotely and that the firm has been able to tailor its approach after learning lessons during the pandemic. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "We have always had a week-long training programme for our newly qualified lawyers which had to switch to online during the pandemic. 

"We did find some benefits to online learning, particularly for colleagues based within different countries or regions—so have since tailored our approach.  

“Junior lawyers, for example, now have multiple avenues of learning, including on-demand videos, a learning path they can do at their own pace, and a final face-to-face event to enable networking and consolidation of skill development.” 

Manson said working remotely has also allowed new recruits to maintain a better work life balance. 

She said: "It enables junior lawyers to learn in a more manageable way, fitting skills and knowledge development in with their job and life, and it also allows us as a firm to be confident that they are completing the continued competence as set out by our regulator."