Viewpoint: Connecting with graduate engineers – Tips for employers
Ash Madni, in his recent Viewpoint piece in Electronics Weekly (26 April 2023 edition), provided interview tips for graduate engineers. He said, “after three or four years of hard study, you’ve graduated and now the job hunting starts” and he provided some really helpful advice for students.
I know from my eight years leading the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF) that industry demand for Electronic Engineering graduates is high. Therefore, in this Viewpoint piece, I wanted to look at graduate recruitment from an employers’ perspective.
Of course, it’s great that parts of our electronics sector, such as chip design, are doing well. However, with demand for graduates outstripping supply, it means getting recruitment right is critical and companies need to avoid making costly mistakes. That is why, based on my experience of supporting more than 750 undergraduates through our UKESF Scholarship Scheme, I wanted to share my thoughts about how employers can de-risk their graduate recruitment process.
Let me start with an obvious but important point. The high demand for graduates the industry is currently experiencing means employers can find themselves in a situation where they are ‘selling’ themselves to prospective graduate engineers.
Attracting the most capable graduates to your business can present some challenges, as there is a lot of competition from within the sector and from adjacent ones too. Engineering graduates have sector-specific technical knowledge but also the transferrable skills sought by many employers in the wider ‘tech’ environment.
The reality is your company may not be as well-known as the tech ‘giants’. There are, however, a number of ways you can compete successfully for graduates.
It is important to consider motivation.
More often than not, Millennials are driven by purpose, challenges and work life balance. Their values are intrinsic to their working life.
In particular, we know that engineering students are motivated by interesting challenges and fulfilling work, and they like to ‘make a difference’. Bearing this in mind can help you become an employer of choice for graduates.
We know that some employers favour a structured, formal, graduate development programme for new starters. This traditional approach does have benefits, but it can run counter to Millennials’ desire to make an impact. Therefore, we suggest involving graduates in challenging ‘real’ work and interesting projects early.
Also, new graduates’ benefit from being exposed to as diverse a range of your employees as possible, including top management. Give them the opportunity to ask questions to everyone they encounter will help them to crystallise what it means to work for your company. For instance, “Lunch and Learn” events are great opportunities to share knowledge and to learn from and engage with colleagues from across the company.
When selecting graduates, it’s important employers don’t just focus on what the prospective employees currently know. Although it is important to cover the ‘basics’, technical questions at interviews should not primarily be a straight ‘knowledge’ test. Different universities have slightly different course structures and module content and there is no common benchmark for a graduate’s knowledge.
At UKESF we advocate that interviewers focus on potential and explore how applicants think and apply their knowledge. Can candidates speculate and extrapolate beyond their current knowledge base? Can they think unfamiliar scenarios through in a logical manner? Importantly, are they curious and intrinsically motivated? These attributes can be assessed by discussing their extra-curricular projects and self-learning beyond their university studies.
Overall, the best way is to de-risk graduate recruitment is to be proactive and to connect with potential graduates when they are still students, essentially to ‘try before you buy’. This can be done by offering work placements and internships. This enables employers to get to know someone in the work context, over an extended period. To see the ‘real’ person and assess their potential and capabilities and, importantly, to see if they are good fit for your company.
From a student’s perspective, a work placement provides an invaluable opportunity to gain practical experience to complement their academic studies. Therefore, it is a ‘win-win’ situation. However, reaching students can be difficult for employers. Attending careers fairs at universities can be time consuming and inefficient, and ‘open’ recruitment via student careers website may not produce suitable candidates. This is where the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF) can help.
For over 10 years, the UKESF Scholarship Scheme has helped industry to recruit bright and motivated students into Electronics. Employers have been fully involved in the design and development of the Scholarship Scheme since its inception, and it has gone from strength-to-strength – this year we had the largest ever number of companies offer scholarships. These range from international, renowned global companies to SMEs, across the whole spectrum of electronics and semiconductors.
The UKESF is able to reach a wider pool of students than individual companies are able to on their own. Companies supporting undergraduates, to gain experience and build their professional skills throughout their studies, are taking positive action to address the graduate skills shortage and build long term relationships with high-achieving young engineers.
Stewart Edmondson is Chief Executive Officer at UKESF.
See also: Chronic skills shortage threatens any Semiconductor strategy, warns UKESF
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