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The Homogeneity of Early Careers Programme Design – a CLO’s Perspective

By Hector Payne, Chief Learning Officer, Alpha Development

The whole “Homogeneity of Early Careers Programme Design” discussion is trending again.

It’s not a secret that getting in front of the right talent with the right experience is a top priority for today’s early career development teams (ECDTs henceforth.) The problem is that most graduate programme design is “homogeneous.” ECDTs typically offer a one size fits all experience treatment to their defined audiences – and though it may aim to appeal to lots of different talent from different backgrounds, it is homogenized into one single output for everyone, regardless of their individual preferences or needs.

Sticking to a homogenous approach to early career development experience design, whether it’s design for the entire firm or specific desks, is a problem (or opportunity, depends on how you view the challenge) and can put your campus brand in jeopardy. By presenting the best average experience instead of a truly personalized output, ECDTs expose their firms to extinction risk. Extinction risk is when a business, like animal species, becomes vulnerable to change to such a degree that it might not be able to survive large environmental fluctuations. The Covid year alone has been a source of rich case studies and data points that has put the spotlight on extinction risk for firms.

Extinction risk is often masked by things that could be indicators of a healthy business, e.g. great revenue. Because of this, it’s vital for organisations to recognize the signs early on and make sure their strategies are setting them up for long-term growth. The key to this is diversity in programme design, audience and business.

Graduate programmesDiversity in programme design- Due to the nature of individual preference, a programme offering to a group, will inevitably garner different reactions. A “good” programme design will appeal to a certain audience, though even an incredibly successful campaign will miss the mark for some. By keeping your programme design homogeneous, you will not have the ability to learn from that distribution of responses. When the performance of your programme is assessed using conversion rates or attrition rates, the nuanced range of reactions is flattened, hidden behind a single metric. That lost information could have been a great resource – informing your teams more about their talent and how to better reach them. By giving people only one creative option and measuring whether it did well or poorly, you are using blunt tools that can only produce blunt insights that don’t do a good job of informing future campaigns or even identifying future talent potential- dare I say even identifying future leaders for functions. Producing and using multiple creative approaches to programme design can provide a number of benefits, including better serving an audience in real-time as well as gaining insights that will help teams make better decisions in the future.

Diversity in your talent pool- Homogeneous design treats the inherent diversity of a group of talent as a problem to be solved: by serving singular creative options to an audience, early career development teams will endear those that resemble the average while alienating those outside it. By targeting and understanding relative outliers, ECDTs can grow their talent base by attracting new people. This process activates a positive feedback loop between homogeneous programme design and homogeneous audience, in which designs tailored toward the average encourage talent to conform more to the average of the group. If ECDTs continue to iterate on that, eventually all talent will start to look alike. And if something happens to said group, it could mean disaster. This is not unlike extinction as we know it in the biological world. If a core audience shares many of the same characteristics, any major change in the environment, such as a pandemic, global warming or major economic changes is likely to affect all of them at once. It goes without saying that change is inevitable – so why would ECDTs risk it all on one group?

For those that take a heterogeneous approach, the inevitable changes that come along will have much less potential to drastically upend a market in a short period of time. And this approach will likely help ECDTs more effectively reach a larger talent pool and grow a business in the long run.

Diversity in your business- As the feedback loop of homogeneous design and talent pools becomes more acute, it’s inevitable that a business will adapt and follow suit – becoming prone to extinction risk. In the animal kingdom, the Ili Pika only discovered in 1983 (thank you National Geographic) have developed a high level of specialization: they live on sloping bare rock faces and feed on grass at very high elevations. Yet despite these specialized skills, they are vulnerable to extinction. Rising temperatures and air pollution have contributed to their decline. This risk often affects those who over-specialize and become dependent on the conditions that enabled them to thrive in the first place.

If another species finds that they can easily rely on one food source, they might sharpen their hunting abilities for that type of prey instead of diversifying their skills. While it might seem like an appealing option, as it provides the most immediate rewards, it poses a great risk. If something comes along that wipes out that food source, the unique animal goes along with it. The same is true in early careers development – when you focus only on improving programme design to cater to that top quartile of talent, you run the risk of losing that base when the – often unavoidable – change occurs.

Homogeneous design forces a constant narrowing of your talent pool, in both size and diversity, iteration by iteration. ECDTs should rethink what constitutes successful targeting and good design, and instead choose a heterogeneous programme design approach to expand their reach and appeal in order to attract and build loyalty with your future talent.

Early career programme design is not abstract visual expression. It is a conversation framework between humans. The components and interactions we create as programme designers are like parts of a global language. Just like you wouldn’t want to have a conversation that’s fragmented into multiple languages, you wouldn’t want unique fragmentation in the way you communicate with your talent or business.

Contact your Alpha relationship manager if you are thinking about reviewing your current approach and would like to have a conversation.

Later this month we will be hosting a webinar with Dr Jane Clark, Global Head of Service Development, AMS, who has recently undertaken some game-changing research as part of her PhD. In the hour-long session, Jane will reveal the real value and impact that graduate programmes can have for organisations and the graduates themselves whom often get overlooked in the process. The event is taking place on Tuesday 19th October and Thursday 21st October. Click on your preferred date to register your interest in attending – we look forward to seeing you there.

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