a young woman with blonde hair is being interviewed at a desk

How to Attract and Retain Top Graduates in STEM

7 in 10 leaders across STEM are struggling with major staff shortages and a skills gap that’s driving a loss of £1.5 billion a year in the UK.  

Meanwhile, retirement is exacerbating already expansive trends. Research from Deloitte shows that in the Chemicals industry alone, almost half of the industry workforce is set to retire within the next 5 to 7 years. 

Without investing in the next generation of scientists and professionals today, STEM leaders risk limiting the talent pool further and curbing their own talent pipelines. 
However, graduate recruitment hinges on more than just hiring – the retention of your graduate workforce is crucial to unlocking the full benefits of your strategy.

In this article, I’ll explore:

  • The benefits of graduate recruitment
  • How to attract top graduates in STEM
  • How to retain your graduate talent

The Benefits of Graduate Recruitment

1. Time-to-hire

In any business time is money, and while an experienced hire can often be an ideal choice, the overall time-to-hire for these professionals can range from anywhere between 6 weeks to 3 months. 
Graduate recruitment has a much lower average time-to-hire, with many being available for immediate starts fresh from university. 
Coming from a learning environment, many graduates are fast learners and can quickly get to grips with the role in the same, or even shorter a time frame than it would have taken to find an ‘ideal hire’.

2. Agile learners

As we emerge from the pandemic, many organisations across STEM are continuing to evolve and shift the ways they work, and the technologies they use. When entering the workforce, graduates can readily take on new roles, learn, and help bridge skills gaps while ensuring business continuity.

3. Cost-effective

Newly qualified graduates have a much lower market-rate compared to those who have more experience in industry. When hired, and successfully retained, graduates can offer businesses a more cost-effective route to bridging skills gaps and building talent pipelines.

4. Fresh perspective

Enjoy the enthusiasm and new outlook that employing a graduate can bring, and discover new ideas to refresh old projects. Graduate hires will have spent at least 3 years developing their critical thinking skills, and may pick up on things others have missed. 

5. Expert knowledge

Although graduates will lack on the job training, they will bring knowledge of the latest scientific, clinical, and engineering techniques and learnings. This can be especially important for digital, tech, automation, medical device type roles. 

How to Attract Top Graduates in STEM

Ensure company buy-in: The first step to effective graduate attraction, is to ensure buy-in from your organisation. It is important everyone is aware of the graduate programme’s intention and opportunity, promoting internally to encourage personal referrals, and staff advocacy. 

Produce a graduate value proposition: Consider what makes your company a great place to work, to ensure you attract the very best talent. Is it the location, the culture, the benefits, the top-class internal training, the opportunity to try working in different departments, competitive pay and bonuses, or even a career progression programme? Remember that many graduates leaving university are looking for a sense of purpose and to make a difference in the world; if your company offer this, then make sure it is clear on your website, social media and advertising. 

Targeting: Not all graduates will be suitable for your programme. Make sure you create a profile of your ideal candidate such as degree subject, strengths, personal characteristics. This will help clarify your targeting to ensure you attract the right talent, but (and this is a big but) remember to be open-minded. Many graduates still have lots of room to grow and to be moulded, so limiting your scope to graduates from a top university may mean you miss out on some fantastic candidates. 

Timing: Timing is crucial when it comes to attracting graduates. Top graduates who have taken on placement years are often hired immediately after exams and begin their applications towards the beginning of the year. Building a strong talent network in advance (ideally around January) will help you navigate the graduate talent market without the pressure.

Graduate attraction strategy: Once you have these fundamentals in place, you are ready to produce an effective graduate attraction strategy. Consider, advertising on your website, jobs boards, social media, and working in partnership with universities themselves. 

Candidates will likely search for your company on social media, so make sure you portray a strong employee value proposition (EVP) e.g., using images, videos or employee testimonials. Consider what training and progression opportunities you can offer graduates. Remember to be transparent and realistic.

Graduate attraction can be rewarding but time-consuming, so of course, consider the benefits of working with an expert scientific and clinical recruitment agency, such as SRG. Most recently, we have supported Abbvie and Oval Medical Technologies with their graduate programmes. 

How to retain graduate talent

Ultimately, the success of your graduate recruitment efforts will come down to whether you’re able to retain and progress the graduate talent you take on. 

Here’s my advice on graduate retention:

1. Provide clear training opportunities

Training opportunities are one of the main points that come up in my discussions with graduate talent. Graduates want a concise and structure learning experience and opportunities to grow when they join a company. I advise:

  • Communicating how long training will take
  • Creating a clear progression path
  • Highlighting any further development opportunities

2. Enable role diversification

In our 2022 Global Science Employment Report, we found that 46% of under-25s in STEM industries are considering a career change. 

Leaders can feed into this desire for variety by enabling cross-department role switch-ups as part of the graduate programme.

Croda, a British speciality chemicals company, accomplish this particularly well with their graduate scheme. At Croda, graduates spend 3-6 months in departments, before moving along to a different area. This exposes graduate hires to a wide range of processes, responsibilities, and elements of the industry in a manageable and structured way – all while enabling teams across the business to benefit from the additional staff. 

3. Keep up with salary reviews

Once a few years have passed, your graduate hires will likely have successfully integrated within your company. It’s at this point that your competitors may reach out with lucrative offers and benefits packages, and retention can be jeopardised. Leaders can prepare for this in advance by staying up to date with both internal, and industry salary reviews, and compensate experienced talent accordingly. 

Need help with graduate recruitment?

SRG have been serving the scientific community for over 30 years and our experienced talent consultants have access to well-established graduate talent networks.
We can help you achieve graduate recruitment success.
To talk with our team, please email solutions@srgtalent.com with your name, telephone number, and a good time to call back – one of our talent experts will be in touch.

About the author: Chris Beckenham specialises in finding scientists and technical talent for the chemicals and material industries, from R&D to analytical testing and manufacturing. Click here to connect with Chris on Linkedin.

How useful did you find this article?
Thank you for your feedback!
5.0 / 5.0

Share location?

Do you want to share your location for better user experience ?