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What Makes a Graduate Development Program Tick?

What Makes a Graduate Development Program Tick?

How was your experience after the Graduate Development Program?

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by Lim Zhi Rong

'I can't wait to start... it's going to be wonderful...'

I was once a graduate like many of my friends back at university many years ago. And like several of them, when I graduated, I started my career in a Graduate Development Program call The Associates Program with Temasek Holdings.

Graduate Programs come in many shapes and forms. Goldman Sachs calls it the New Associate Program, Citibank calls it the Management Associate Program, The Linde Group terms it as the Graduate Trainee Program and Mondelez International coins it as Early Graduate Development Program. But the objectives are the same - to groom young talents and build talent pipeline for the organization.

This article seeks to share my experience when I was part of the Associates Program with Temasek Holdings and also my experience managing such programs as a HR Professional subsequently in my career with The Linde Group and Mondelez International. And of course, my views on what makes a graduate program tick!

First of all - let's talk about duration and number of rotations.

Temasek Holdings had a 24 months Associates Program back when I was with them. It has a structured onboading process in the first two weeks and Associates get to attend the Adkins Matchett Toy Financial Modelling workshop, which is one of the world's leading institution in providing financial training. Associates are assigned to a specific department for 24 months (so this means, no 'structured rotation per say') but they are pooled together as a collective talent pool. Associates are encouraged and frequently deployed to work on different M&A deals across the institution.

At the Linde Group, there are two types of Graduate Trainee (GT) Program. 1) The Linde Group Business Graduate Trainee which targets Business Students for commercial stints. 2) The other, The Linde Engineering Graduate Trainee Program for the Engineering side of our business and stints at the plant sites. Both Programs lasts for18 months and comes with 3 rotations.

In Mondelez International, they piloted the Early Graduate Development Program(EDP) in Finance two years ago. It's a 24 months program with 3 rotations (2 local and 1 international). They are rotated across various sub functions of Finance includingFinancial Planning & Analysis, Supply Chain Finance and Financial Controlling.

As you can tell by now - duration and number of rotations differ company by company. Personally, having experienced myself and also managed it, for a graduate program to be successful, it is not about the duration or rotation. You can have it as short as 18 months and still be successful. You can do it without any rotation but still be creative.What's key is the 'HR attention' you pay to when managing this group of young talents.

At the Linde Group and Mondelez International, I've always made an effort to have regular 1:1 hi-touch dialogues with the GTs or EDPs. I go to them with a genuine concern on their development, ask them how they are doing with their line managers and provide coaching to teach them how to navigate the organizationthroughout the program.

I constantly remind the business leaders to make efforts to engage EDPs. Give back to these EDPs, share with them timely performance feedback, give them a 2nd chance if they didn't impress in the first project. They are young, they are here to learn, and didn't you and I together select them at the interview?

Thus, I think the most important factor to ensure a Graduate Program ticks is to assign a HR Business Partner as a Program Lead, ensures he/she acts as the bridge between the business and the EDPs and be the moral conscious of the two. Tell the EDPs if they are not doing well and what they need to work on. Tell the business leaders to invest with a long term view in mind, give them real work that aids in their development, don't just deploy them to meet near term work priorities.

Some HR Professional argues - the ownership of the program sits with the business. I don't disagree but if there is no HR Program Lead, business will overtime forget to allocate the right attention to them.

Over the years, I'm managed close to ~50 graduates and many of them becoming friends today. I'm glad to see them completing their rotations, graduating from their programs and getting deployed into next roles in their career.

I wish them success - and I hope that someday, they will also coach and groom young talents in the future because they were once beneficiaries of a graduate program.

To all my friends out there - I wish you all the best and success in your career endeavors.