The Emergence of Graduate Voice

The concept of employee voice is well-understood in HR circles. It encapsulates the ways in which employees can communicate their views to their employers, and thereby influence both their own working lives and the success of the organisation.

Savvy employers invest in processes and culture to ensure that employee voice can be encouraged and heard; helping the organisation to build employee engagement, inform people strategy and capitalise on the insights and creativity of the whole workforce. There are also plenty of consultancies and agencies around who can offer advice and support to employers looking to improve how their voice channels enable and encourage the process, and the effectiveness of their analysis and strategic response.

A more insightful measure of success

Facilitating graduate voice on the other hand is a less well trodden path. Appreciation of the need to create more opportunities for graduate voice is nonetheless emerging, as demonstrated by the recent decision of HESA* to introduce graduate voice as a new data set in the next Graduate Outcomes survey. This development indicates a recognition that the destinations and earnings of recent graduates do not tell the whole story – it is equally important to understand how graduates feel and think about their work in the context of their values and aspirations.

HESA is embarking on its graduate voice data-gathering with some seriously big hitters: questions about how meaningful graduates’ work is, whether work makes use of their skills developed in education and whether their current work helps their progress towards bigger, longer-term goals. This change in data collection marks a profound turning point in the interpretation of educational and career success for the largest recurrent survey of recent graduates in the UK.

The message for graduate employers

This change in direction contains a clear call to action for large graduate employers: review the channels and systems that support graduate voice and how it informs strategy and practice in graduate recruitment and development. Consider how much is really known about the feelings and perceptions of graduates in development within the organisation?

Whilst graduates will naturally be invited to participate in cross-organisation employee surveys, it may be that issues of direct relevance to the nature of being a new graduate in their first post-qualification professional job are not explored. Employers can ask themselves if there might be other opportunities to collect more specific and focused data from their graduates. There may well be un-realised opportunities to strengthen feedback channels and increase relevant data points: this would reveal nuanced data to help the organisation build programmes that truly support graduates in making best use of their hard-earned qualifications and enable them to move nearer to achieving their longer-term goals, while doing important and meaningful work.

These will be the employers who are best placed to build programmes and career paths that attract greater numbers of applicants and, in the longer term, have a significant positive impact on the engagement, productivity and retention of these key employees.

* Higher Education Statistics Agency: the designated data body for UK higher education data and analysis in England.