When it comes to recruiting top talent – especially younger workers – training may play a critical role, a new survey suggests.

According to the survey, an overwhelming majority of new college graduates expect employers to invest in their professional development.

But many of them will be disappointed: The survey found that most employers are unwilling or unprepared to develop their young talent.

The study
The consulting firm Accenture surveyed more than 1,000 graduates from the class of 2014 about their expectations for joining the workforce. They found that 80% expected to receive formal training and development at their first job out of college.

That’s really good news. Far from the image of the young worker as an earpod-dangling slacker who would rather be out partying, it suggests that new grads are serious about their careers.

Here’s the bad news: Accenture also surveyed more than 1,000 graduates from 2012 and 2013 to get a realistic picture of the new grad work experience. They found that only 48% were receiving formal training.

That’s pretty shocking. These are people who have lots of enthusiasm and potential but little or no experience – yet half are being thrown in the deep end without a life preserver.

A cry for help
Another survey suggests that most young professionals don’t need to be sold on training. They have ambitious professional goals and know that they lack the skills required to achieve them.

Bentley University interviewed more than 3,000 workers and bosses. Two thirds of millennial respondents said that job preparedness is a real problem among their generation, and 61% graded their peer group’s preparation at a “C” or below.

Whose job is it?
Traditionally, business leaders have deplored the deficiencies of new graduates and pointed the finger at colleges and universities.

Accenture concludes that this blame game misses the point. If organizations want a top-tier work force, they must take ownership of training and developing their young employees. Either they invest in talent development or run the risk of losing out to other employers that are making these investments.

Implications for training programs
For employers that embrace training, the Accenture study offers a few recommendations. Consider sharing these with your HR department and senior management to help your organization get the most out of its commitment to training:

    1. Use training as a recruitment tool. New graduates consider training and development opportunities when deciding who to work for. To attract top talent, trainers can work with HR to make sure the organization talks up the training program on the company Website and in recruitment literature. Highlight what makes your training program successful and unique.
    2. Hire based on potential as well as qualifications. As the Bentley study suggests, the idea of finding relatively inexperienced candidates who are magically equipped with the right skills is unrealistic. More important is trainability: Do they have the raw materials to become the employee you need?Yet such diamond-in-the-rough candidates are often screened out by rigid job requirements that demand certain qualifications and experience.Trainers can help HR identify candidates with trainability potential – for example, by developing interview questions or assessments that probe for qualities like intelligence, creativity and grit.
    3. Use training as a retention strategy. The National Research Business Institute has found that approximately one in four employees leave their job because of the lack of training opportunities.You can use your training program not only to attract good talent, but to keep them around. Smart, ambitious workers will be more likely to commit to an organization that’s committed to their development.
    4. Use training as a motivational tool. A strong training program can boost employee engagement. Employees will give more effort to the organization if they see evidence that the organization is investing in them.
    5. Use training to create a sustainable competitive advantage. The benefits of training don’t end with recruitment and retention, of course. Training also helps ensure that those employees keep getting better over time – increasing the gap between organizations that invest in training and those that don’t.

    Accenture. (2014). Great expectations: Insights from Accenture 2014 college graduate employment survey.
    Bentley University (2014). The PreparedU project: An in-depth look at millennial preparedness for today’s workforce.

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