Training grads isn't a waste of time: ACSF

Businesses are doing themselves a disservice by only seeking IT staff who have previous experience; they could be getting much better return on investment by hiring someone fresh out of university.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

Australian Computer Society Foundation (ACSF) executive director John Ridge told journalists at a briefing yesterday that the IT industry needs to get past its fear of "wasting" resources on training graduates who might leave after a short period of employment, and start becoming part of the solution.

Ridge highlighted that one of the issues plaguing the IT industry is that businesses are often not prepared to give graduates the first few years of experience that they need, and that entry-level positions for these graduates are drying up.

"Where do graduates get their first opportunities? Where do they get their experience? People don't graduate as high value-add resources; they graduate without experience. They graduate as someone that needs to get their three years' experience. The only way they're going to do that is if those low value-add jobs are available. That's the entry level," he said.

He said that organisations shouldn't look at graduates as being a resource sinkhole that other companies might then poach, but rather as an opportunity to bring something new to their business.

"I don't think people should be threatened by the fact that somebody's going to get two to three years' experience and then move on. I think it's exciting to get graduates into a business, because they bring a fresh approach, a fresh perspective, fresh ideas. If you only get two or three years out of them because they move on for whatever reason ... that's an opportunity to bring in more fresh people with a fresh approach."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ridge said that graduates are also a great way for businesses to define the kind of workforce they want to have, rather than have it misshapen by preconceived notions of how the industry should work by older cohorts.

"You get someone with three, five, 10, 15 years' experience, you're getting somebody who is generally fairly fixed in their ideas. They've got their own ways of doing things. If you really want to get people working the way that you want them to work, looking at students and graduates, in my view, is the best way to do it. It's a much better approach to achieve the results you want to achieve," he said.

Monetix director John Painter was one such graduate who left about five years after starting his internship-turned-fulltime-position at Frontline, which was put in place by ACSF. But Painter, who used the experience to launch his own business, felt that he left Frontline with a positive return, rather than running off with the company's investment.

Painter also said that the recruitment process for graduates has a lot less overhead than hiring from a market of more experienced workers.

"If you're worrying about churn in your workforce ... graduates, honestly, if you look at it, are relatively cheap compared to someone who's got five to 10 years' experience. The return on investment may not be the same for every graduate, but I definitely returned a lot more than what Frontline would have had to pay up."

And the return on investment isn't simply financial, either. Painter said that he feels almost indebted to Frontline, due to the student-mentor relationship that he had with his boss.

"Even though I have gone off to create my own thing, I sit down with the guy that owns the company and he gives me business advice, and I sit down with my old colleagues and feed them opportunities. Students have a really high level of loyalty to their mentors, and I think that students have a really high loyalty to the companies that employed them."

Ridge said that past research conducted by ACSF in 2000 to 2001 backs this up, showing that 70 per cent of graduates in similar mentor-based programs were still there seven years later, despite there being, at the time, near 50 per cent annual turnover in Sydney and Melbourne for the IT industry as a whole.

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