How all small businesses can offer graduate schemes that are often better than the big boys!

As a recruiter and avid Oxfordshire business supporter, I often find that many Oxfordshire-based businesses, especially the smaller ones, find it challenging to attract fresh, intelligent and hungry talent into their businesses. With our wealth of world-class students, surely this shouldn’t be the case?

Based on my research last summer, I found that Oxfordshire offers very few graduate schemes compared to a lot of other English counties. In fact, I only managed to find 7 graduate schemes being offered by Oxfordshire-based SMEs.

Graduate website, Prospects, cites that nearly 50% of employers find their vacancies difficult to fill due to a lack of relevant working experience, a problem that resonates with a lot of fresh graduates who have typically only ever worked alongside education.

I think what many employers are failing to recognize is the significance of potential in line with experience. Whilst graduates may not have the immediate skills required for a role, they are typically hard-working, intuitive and eager to absorb information, which, given some basic training, often makes them excellent value for money.

With this logic, I made it my mission to change the disparity of Oxfordshire graduate opportunities and challenged our 3-person business to put together a graduate scheme that could ‘beat’ what is often offered in London by ‘the big boys’.

We, therefore, launched our ‘Graduate Business Executive’ vacancy – a 1-year scheme covering recruitment (we are a recruitment agency after all), administration, finance, marketing, sales and business-planning. As a result, we were inundated with interested graduates who all said that there was nothing else like this in Oxfordshire.

Shannon, the successful candidate, was a recent graduate from The University of Birmingham with a degree in English. Shannon had really thrived in education and knew that she wanted to join a business where she could continue to learn but, like many of her peers, she was unsure of her long-term career goals. Thus, the opportunity to gain a variety of new skills was very attractive to her.

This scheme didn’t just work for Shannon, it really worked for us. Like most small business owners, I previously found myself doing lots of the ‘low value’ work like bookkeeping and administration, which whilst time-consuming for me, is really valuable to a graduate.

After 10 months with the business, Shannon was rewarded with a promotion to ‘Junior Business and Marketing Manager’, firstly because she deserves it but secondly because it really added to her credibility and value. Shannon has decided that her longer-term career will probably be one in marketing and for that reason it may not be with us, purely due to our volume of marketing need. However, both Shannon and Thompson & Terry Recruitment have gained such incredible value over the past 12 months that ultimately the implementation of our graduate scheme has been entirely mutually beneficial.

In fact, many of Shannon’s peers who joined more conventional London-based graduate schemes have been shocked by the variety and depth of experience that Shannon has acquired over the last year.

Our approach certainly hasn’t been rocket science. As an SME, because we don’t have our own finance, marketing or business strategy departments, there is that gap for us (and you) to offer real variety in terms of hands-on experience.

This summer, we have made the decision to offer two more graduate schemes and have again been extremely flattered by the quality of interest in our positions – many applicants coming from top universities.

So, why not give it a try? Oxfordshire’s graduates need you!