Nurturing graduates to become high performing team members

Nurturing graduates to become high performing team members

Aderant kicked off a graduate program five years ago. William Davis, head of NZ operations for the legal software provider, talks about lessons learned on how both sides – the graduates and the enterprise – benefit from the program.

When William Davis of
Aderant started a graduate program five years ago, he was well aware of perceptions of the industry on the pros and cons of the program.

One of these is the expectation the graduates will work for a couple of years before they go on a big OE (overseas experience), says Davis, who is director of engineering and head of the New Zealand operations for the company, which provides software for the legal industry..

“A lot of common thinking is if you get two or three years out of the graduates, you are doing well.”

He says while some of the graduates did go overseas, he had a good retention rate. He says half of those who joined the first graduate program and 80 per cent of the second batch are still with the company.

“We made sure we have a good environment for them to grow their career,” he states, on how they were able to buck the trend.

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In the first two years, the company took in eight graduates and has been taking in up to 15 graduates in the past three years.

The program was started in Aderant's office in the United States, where Davis says there is a lot of competition for graduates, especially in the “top end”.

I have had many people in that program effectively reinvent parts of our organisation as a result of the projects they take on.

William Davis, Aderant

“But what I found here is there is actually quite a good pool of graduates, I was able to hire a lot of graduates aggressively."

He says the graduates can come from a variety of fields. Typically, he says, a technical course will be required for programmers or quality assurance people, but they have graduates with liberal arts degrees.

One of them is a marine biologist, and the others include graduates of mathematics, mechatronics and commerce degrees.

So what lessons can he share with other technology focused companies?

Read more: NZ ICT Predictions 2015: Success hinges on transition to become a technology focused organisation

Mentoring tips

Davis recommends getting a group of graduates, not individuals. “That way you have got a little bit of a community, and they will have the ability to support each other.”

He says taking in a group also drives the organisation to put some things in place to support the graduates throughout the program.

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Mentoring is important, he says. “We allocate a 'buddy' for each of them on arrival,” says Davis.

“It is all about trying to make people feel welcome,” says Davis. “At the end of the day, they are coming into an environment where there is a lot more experienced people and that is quite an adjustment to make.”

Start them in projects that can progressively get more complicated depending upon their capability.

William Davis, Aderant

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“Start them in projects that can progressively get more complicated depending upon their capability,” he says, is another approach that works.

“The reality is with good mentors and good guidance, people cope with everything else,” he states.

“If you hire smart people, they quickly adopt patterns of what they are stepping into,” he adds.

Davis compares the graduates to the new kid in school. They walk in and absorb what is going on, so they become effective reasonably quickly.

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“I have had many people in that program effectively reinvent parts of our organisation as a result of the projects they take on,” he says. “They then become resident experts in that area of the business.”

This is unlike the classic approach to internship where he says, “you might do six months carrying bricks, [and] after that you are allowed to pick up a hammer”.

“After six months, I expect them to be fully functioning members, and I can transfer them between teams.

He says taking in the graduates also encourages a different team dynamic.

“You end up with more senior people interacting more with the whole team and that has really helped with the whole agile team behaviour and everything else.”

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