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The strategic investment of early talent programs

early talent programs

Given the competitiveness and talent shortages of today’s job market, are you looking to make your company more attractive to a broader swath of talent?

Or are you interested in harnessing the unique attributes and valuable skill sets of up-and-coming younger workers, who represent the future of work, and therefore gain a competitive advantage and become better prepared for what lies ahead?

Your company could benefit greatly from an early talent program.

Who is early talent?

Usually, this term refers to any workers who are early in their careers – that is, new to both your company and the workforce. These people may include:

  • Currently enrolled students in high school, college or trade school who are nearing graduation and seeking either an internship or their first work experience
  • Newcomers to the workforce with five or fewer years of experience

However, in some instances, this term could also refer to anyone with minimal experience in your industry. This includes people who may have many years of work experience in another field – for example, former teachers or U.S. military members – but who are now changing careers.

What are early talent programs?

Early talent programs comprise any training, learning opportunities, processes, or activities your company undertakes to identify, introduce and assimilate early talent into your organization.

The purpose of early talent programs is to:

  • Connect workers who have minimal experience with job opportunities
  • Make the transition to working life easier on both employer and employee
  • Help new employees feel more settled and established within their team and the overall company
  • Increase the odds that the employee will be a successful, long-term addition to the company’s workforce

Benefits of early talent programs

There are many compelling reasons for companies to offer early talent programs.

These programs:

  • Introduce younger people to office environments and can dispel any negative or inaccurate perceptions they may have
  • Open younger peoples’ eyes to different career options
  • Give younger people tangible job experience to put on their résumé
  • Forge strong connections with Generation Z, whose numbers among the workforce will only continue to grow
  • Are an opportunity for companies to spread brand awareness and build a positive reputation as an employer of choice among students seeking internships and job candidates seeking full-time employment
  • Help companies build a pipeline of talent for the future, thus aiding in recruiting and attracting talent
  • Better engage younger workers and set them up for long-term success, which can enhance employee retention
  • Resolve skills gaps that may exist between the classroom and office, especially critical soft skills that are essential for professional success
  • Promote team cohesion
  • Encourage a continuous learning culture
  • Enable recruiting a more diverse workforce of underrepresented groups and new perspectives to help drive organizational innovation and growth
  • Let company leaders better cultivate the skills they most desire in employees and get rid of outdated practices more easily
  • Assist in obtaining workplace-related feedback from younger workers

Common components of early talent programs

Let’s explore in more detail what an early talent program often entails.

1. Recruitment strategy

Finding and attracting early talent is the first step in any early talent program.

But, how do you do this?

Some tips:

  • Partner with major educational institutions in your region or those institutions that closely align their curriculum with your industry’s needs and requirements. Get started by getting to know people who work in a school’s career center or by fostering relationships with people working in certain academic departments of particular interest or relevance. Additionally, you can work with associations that support students.

As a result, your company can participate in job fairs, offer internship programs through the school (more on this below) or lead classroom projects that are intended to solve a business challenge or address a specific need at your company.

(This is also a great opportunity to leverage your current workforce in a volunteer capacity and encourage them to reconnect with their former schools and facilitate outreach between alumni and students.)

  • Meet younger job applicants where they are more likely to be. Use job boards that are popular with these applicants or engage more on social media.
  • When possible in job postings, be flexible about the years of experience required so you don’t immediately exclude younger workers or discourage them from applying. For some roles, it may be more important to hire for potential and cultural fit rather than experience, knowing that you can train and develop the employee.
  • In job postings, emphasize the things about your organization that tend to be important to younger workers, such as your culture, values, benefits and perks that differentiate your company, or your organization’s commitment to timely topics, such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), sustainability or community support.
  • When you engage with younger job candidates, highlight the career pathways that exist in your organization and express your desire to promote from within. Younger people, who are much more accustomed to job hopping and less likely to stay in a single position for as long as previous generations have, want to know about their opportunities to move laterally or vertically within the organizational structure and gain even more varied experience.

2. Internship program

Often facilitated through your company’s relationships with educational institutions, an internship program can be an incredibly valuable tool for building a pipeline of talent year-round and letting you audition a potential employee before hiring them and investing significant time and resources into their training.

Other benefits of internships include:

  • Bringing in fresh perspectives and new ideas
  • Improving the productivity and efficiency of your workforce by allowing current employees to delegate some of their workload to interns
  • Closing skills gaps
  • Strengthening community connections

Of course, internships are mutually beneficial. For students, it helps them acquire much-needed experience and skills and lets them “test drive” your organization as well.

As you launch an internship program, consider:

  • The goals and expectations for your internships
  • Which areas of your businesses will rely on interns
  • The scope of each internship, including job descriptions and responsibilities
  • The length of each internship
  • The frequency of internships throughout the year
  • Whether you will pay interns
  • Who will supervise interns
  • How you will measure the success of each internship
  • The requirements for an intern to receive a job offer

3. Orientation and onboarding

It’s important for any new hire to complete an initial orientation and onboarding period as part of a robust introduction to their job and their company.

For early talent, it’s particularly critical that you start them off on the right foot and set them up for success, because they don’t have extensive experience in other workplaces to draw upon. You may want to dedicate extra time to reviewing topics that are most relevant to newcomers in the workforce, such as:

  • Professional standards and expectations of behavior
  • Ethical practices
  • Business acumen
  • Communication skills
  • In-demand soft skills, including critical thinking, empathy and resiliency

You will also likely need to allocate more time to on-the-job training.

4. Training and development program

Once orientation and onboarding is complete, a comprehensive training and development program can help engage and motivate employees, remind them of their personal career goals, and instill the value of continually learning and upskilling.

Such a program typically includes:

  • Ongoing general training related to the workplace and industry
  • Ongoing job-specific training related to new competencies, processes or programs
  • Continuing education courses focused on specific topics of interest
  • Opportunities to take on new responsibilities and projects
  • Mentorships
  • Networking
  • Cross-training and rotations through other teams

Because employees don’t all learn the same way, the most successful training and development programs often blend:

  • Online and virtual learning
  • Structured group learning and self-paced, flexible learning
  • Traditional lecture format and experiential learning
  • Required learning and employee-initiated learning

As you launch a training and development program, consider:

  • The purpose and goals of each learning opportunity
  • How relevant and meaningful a learning opportunity is to a particular employee and their goals
  • Your budget
  • The availability and commitment of company leadership to participate when needed
  • How you will measure the success of each learning opportunity and the employee’s mastery of a new competency
  • That training is an ongoing, cyclical endeavor—not a “one and done”

5. Socialization plan

A socialization plan covers any activity you facilitate to help integrate early talent into their teams and enable camaraderie and collaboration to grow organically. After all, like any other employee, early talent tends to feel more engaged and fulfilled in their job if they’re connected to colleagues and have a sense of community and belonging.

This could involve plugging early talent into:

  • Lunches
  • Happy hours
  • Team building sessions
  • Field trips
  • Other workplace-related social events and parties
  • Volunteer activities
  • Athletic events and challenges
  • Employee resource groups
  • Employee affinity groups

Some challenges with early talent programs

1. Budget

Early talent programs often suffer from lack of abundant funding. Learn how to leverage volunteer support and maximize the funds you’re given.

2. Oversight

Who’s in charge? It can be helpful to create an Early Talent Department within your human resources (HR) function that is dedicated to overseeing your early talent program and all its components.

3. Leadership buy-in

Leaders prioritize a healthy and quick return on investment (ROI). Clarify for leadership that an early talent program is an investment that pays off in the long term, rather than in the moment. Remind them of the long-term benefits associated with early talent programs. Furthermore, explain the means by which you’ll measure the program’s success (more on this later).

4. Momentum

Be sure to communicate and share information regularly with internal and external partners so they maintain awareness of current activities and progress toward goals – and don’t forget or lose interest.

5. Generational gaps

Achieving greater age diversity in your workplace is a great thing! However, it can also lead to problems when managers, direct reports and teammates can’t relate to each other. When they have enough meaningful differences in their processes, preferences and communication styles, they may struggle to collaborate effectively. You’ll have to make an effort to bridge the gaps between the various generations in the workplace to overcome negative impacts to your work environment and culture.

6. Misalignment of expectations

It may come to your attention that your workplace policies and practices don’t align with what younger workers expect. Maybe your benefits package isn’t as attractive, your managers don’t display a desired leadership style or you don’t afford as much flexibility as younger workers want. Plan ahead for how you’ll respond in this scenario and have a process for determining which changes your workplace may be able to implement.

At least you’ll know proactively where your organization stands and which adjustments you can make to maintain competitiveness going forward.

Measuring success

How can you measure the success of an early talent program?

Tools at your disposal include:

  • Conversion rates from intern population to full-time employee
  • Employee retention rate
  • Employee turnover rate
  • Internal promotion rate
  • Diversity rate

Summing it all up

An early talent program is a great way to build relationships with younger workers who have minimal professional experience. Implementing this type of program helps future proof your organization, boost your reputation and cultivate a bench of talent who is ready to close skills gaps and infuse creativity, diversity and fresh ideas into the workplace. Early talent programs are also mutually beneficial, giving younger workers much-needed experience and valuable learning opportunities at a critical point in their career. Here, we covered all the most important elements of a successful and empowering early talent program while addressing some of the challenges you may face.

An early talent program is a critical tool for not only attracting talent, but also laying the foundation for an employee’s long-term engagement and satisfaction, which impact retention. To learn more about how to retain valued employees, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee retention.