The Cable and Wireless Worldwide graduate scheme is aimed at continuing telecoms engineers' professional development.

Making the most of a graduate development programme

Those lucky enough to secure a place on a graduate programme should recognise it as a golden opportunity and extract maximum value from it.

Acceptance on a graduate trainee programme is hopefully the first step in a long, illustrious and fulfilling career. Recent data from the quarterly report Tracking UK Recruitment found that the demand for entry level candidates and graduates actually increased, with two fifths (39 per cent) recruiting at this level in the third quarter of 2011 compared to just five per cent during the same period of 2010. There is, however, no guarantee that this will be maintained in the current economic downturn.

“Recruitment continues to be a contentious issue for many organisations,” says Nigel Lynn, managing director of professional staffing consultancy Barclay Meade, which undertook the survey and which forms part of engineering recruitment firm, Machtech Group. “While it is encouraging to see an increase in demand for entry level candidates, it is clear that employers are increasingly looking to more experienced individuals to navigate companies out of the economic mire.”

Those lucky enough to secure a place on a graduate programme, therefore, should recognise it as the golden opportunity it is given the overall state of the current jobs market and extract maximum value from it.

Fully prepare for it

You should have already done extensive homework on your new employer prior to the interview stage but it shouldn’t end there. Keep abreast of developments between being accepted onto a scheme and start date and then on an ongoing basis by regularly visiting the corporate website and, for instance, monitoring any mention in the media.

One way of doing this is by setting up a Google Alert on the company name. Make the most of any onboarding opportunities offered before you join such as the chance to buddy up with a recent joiner or a potential mentor. Some organisations use social media for this or have their own online communities in place, which can be invaluable at helping acclimatise you to the organisation and its culture.

In short, embrace any opportunity to make day one easier and less daunting so you will feel more equipped to hit the ground running.

Be adaptable and ready to deal with a degree of uncertainty

Graduate programmes are well structured and chances are you already know the framework for the coming months, if not the fine detail. Nonetheless, all manner of information, issues and challenges will likely be thrown at you in the early weeks and months which you’ll swiftly need to get a handle on.

“With so many different elements to graduate programmes, time management is often an issue,” says Sarah Godwin, employee development officer at Anglo-Italian helicopter design and manufacturing company, Agusta Westland.

“As well as being flexible enough to respond to the different types of situations graduates will find themselves in, working with different types of people, within and external to the company, requires a level of flexibility and adaptability in terms of approach to interaction.”

She adds that graduate programmes require a different mindset to university. “Graduates often find the theory they have been taught at university is different to the application of it in a work environment,” she explains. “Graduates should be prepared for their learning to continue throughout the programme – gaining a degree is just the beginning.”

Invest heavily in the opportunities presented

You will typically undertake several placements to acquire on-the-job experience as well as build understanding of the business’ commercial activities and strategy so take every opportunity to demonstrate your potential.

Don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas and suggestions but also be prepared to listen and learn from others. You have been recruited as the company’s future talent, so your manager will expect you to be brimming with enthusiasm and bright ideas so don’t disappoint. Mike Fetters, sales director, graduate and commercial partnerships at totaljobs.com, who also heads up the site’s Graduate Zone and manages the UK's leading virtual online graduate recruitment fair GradU8.com, stresses the importance of being prepared to roll your sleeves up.

“Even if it’s not a blue collar position you are in you must be prepared to learn all aspects of the business. As a graduate, you are deemed the talent of the future but to lead from the front you have to understand how the business works at all levels and be able to see your role in the wider picture,” he says.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and provide input. Also know your place and who your boss’ bosses are. Listen to what people say and even if you don’t agree with it don’t be negative,” he adds.

Record your learning

Keep a diary or learning log and make time to reflect on your experiences as this will help to maximise their impact and value. Graduate programmes have mechanisms built in to provide constructive feedback about their performance and development and it is important to fully recognise the value of these.

“This is sometimes the most feedback anyone will get over the course of their career,” says Godwin. “So graduates should be willing to take on board any feedback they receive in order to better develop themselves and their careers.”

Participate in extra-curricular activity

Also be prepared to get involved in activities outside of your usual day-to-day work projects.

“This will usually include training and development activities, as well as community or fundraising events, representing the company at careers fairs, and working with local schools to promote engineering,” says Godwin.

“As well as helping with personal development, these activities can also be used to fulfil some of the competency requirements for working towards Chartership," she notes.

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