In response to the pandemic, employers changed from predominantly face-to-face induction and onboarding activities to virtual provision. The shift was not only in format, but also impacted the type of content that could be delivered.
Data in context
Many employers are examining onboarding and induction activities in the aftermath of the pandemic. Members agreed that using data from both before and during the pandemic is a useful indicator for determining what works and what doesn’t.
Angela Dealtry from Natwest Group highlighted the need for wider world context. “Last year we ran virtual inductions with really positive results. However feedback showed that graduates overwhelmingly wanted to meet each other and people from the business face-to-face, whereas apprentices were less confident.
“I feel that the world has since moved on. When we gathered the feedback there was a lot of fear and uncertainty about the rules around mixing. Apprentices are typically younger than graduates, so this probably reflected a lack of certainty.”
Face-to-face, virtual or hybrid?
What became apparent in the discussion was that there is a desire for face-to-face activities, however feasibility is dependent on size of cohort and location of staff. While a company hiring 30 or 40 candidates may opt for face-to-face induction and onboarding, there are challenges for those taking on hundreds of early career hires.
Sarah Mountford from Nestle recruits around 100 graduates, apprentices and interns from the UK and Ireland annually. She explained, “Last year we started to run face-to-face events again. Over the two days I could see the joy from making connections in person. I can’t imagine we’d go fully to virtual or face-to-face. It’s about recognising the best moments we have together in person and virtually, and taking advantage of both of them.
“We have lots of people from around the business invested, helping to create connections, inspire and bring to life different parts of our business. It can be difficult getting diaries to align and for some of our senior team to be in a set location to be involved in a short session in person, however, virtually not a problem! We think about what we are trying to achieve and the best way to do this virtually, in person or sometimes resources alone will suffice.”
Angela echoed this sentiment, “Historically we’ve brought in 250 graduates from around the UK every year face-to-face. Through Covid this has been virtual. We bring the bank’s structure to life, mixing senior speakers with fun networking and some behavioural elements too for example, how to be effective in a hybrid environment. It’s always customer focused and graduates get to understand this by creating a hypothetical new product.
“This has been successful but we’re at a tipping point now. Demand is increasing for 2023 to over 400 graduates and we can’t mirror our current induction for this number. Business speakers are always highly rated and graduates want to network at cohort and programme level. We’re looking at what we can run face-to-face and I believe we now to also look at if there are ways we could apply artificial intelligence or virtual reality to step it up a notch.”
Supporting a diverse cohort
Decisions to run onboarding and inductions face-to-face, virtual or hybrid should be considered through a diversity lens explained Charlotte Brewin Head of Fast Stream Onboarding from the Civil Service Fast Stream.
“Our ‘Fast Stream Base Camp’ inductions were previously delivered over three days face-to-face. During the pandemic we converted delivery to three days fully virtual. In 2022 we delivered our first hybrid event with three days virtual and two days face-to-face – this meant that the Fast Streamers were able to get to know each other virtually and then to consolidate this in a face-to-face setting as well. We found that there was a different dynamic to their first face-to-face interaction as this wasn’t the first time they had met each other.
“There have been challenges with each type of delivery, particularly as our cohort is highly diverse. To reasonably adjust virtual activities for everyone over three days can be very difficult and it can be unrealistic to expect everyone to sit comfortably at a computer for days at a time. On the other hand, the hybrid event was challenging as it felt like we were organising two events instead of one, as there were so many different considerations”
Members highlighted the importance of establishing emotional connections at an early stage to reduce reneges.
Paul Siaens from Gradconsult explained, “Encouraging students to emotionally invest and creating a sense of belonging before they even turn up, will reduce the risk of people not starting. The aim is to move from, ‘I’m starting with X in September’ to ‘I’ve already started working with X’.
“Explain at the beginning that their journey with you starts in the summer. You could create digital assets for students to share on LinkedIn, such as I’m delighted to be joining X’ – when you publically declare something, you’re more likely to do it.”
“In my previous role, leading on graduate careers at First Group, we ran ‘keep in touch’ days, bringing people together in programme groups and as a whole. We’d cover travel and expenses. They’d take a train ride with a customer host before starting to experience the frontline and there were visits to engineering depots. Students would get to live the business before they joined, creating an emotional attachment.
“As students are searching for employers with similar values, it can help to blend the induction and onboarding process. The First Group induction almost concluded the onboarding programme, rather than being a separate event.
“We’d start development at induction with sessions such as ‘working with senior leadership’ or ‘how to join a team effectively and create your own brand’. It was about the context of themselves in the business so that by the time they saw a line manager they felt confident and the focus could move to technical knowledge and cultural fit.”
Bringing together graduates, apprentices and interns
There are varying approaches to onboarding and inducting different groups of early career talent.
Traditionally many employers run separate events for apprentices and graduates. Sarah explained her approach and reasoning for crossover, “the learning agendas for apprentices and graduates are different so while we run separate activities we also feel it’s important to bring them together as a single cohort.
“For example, our engineers join and we run activities for them to gather a sense of the business, but they then go into tech training at college for a relatively long period. We therefore get our apprentices together for a day before joining them with our graduates, so everyone experiences a day together. We cover our purpose and values as well as wellbeing and inclusion. We want them to feel that we are a business force for good. Graduates then stay on for a ‘connection’ day. We run virtual days throughout the year, so both cohort populations and teams can continue to forge connections.”
Examples of induction and onboarding activities
- Speakers from across the business to inform, motivate and engage
- Welcome days to start to build connections
- Elective activities – enable students to tailor their induction at certain points such as choosing from a series of TED Talks in subjects they are interested in from inclusion to wellbeing
- Opportunities for students to connect peer-to-peer, with people from similar locations and across the programme as a whole
- ‘Thrive at work’ sessions to support wellbeing and the transition from education to work
- Market floor exhibition – bring together different parts of your business in an exhibition style
- Fun events such as baking challenges or cookalongs
- Summer challenge where they get to better understand the customer, such as creating a new product