Are you sure?

Training on-the-job attractive for youngsters

There are plenty of reasons a company may be seen as attractive by fresh graduates. Among them, the possibility of quick career building and international experience is near the top of the list. A look at how businesses mold recruits into skilled – and loyal – employees.

“When I was looking for a job, I deliberately set an eye on this company. The main reason was that I knew that they would provide a chance for gaining international experience,” said Anna Lebovics, currently communication and CSR manager of BAT Hungary Kft, the local unit of British American Tobacco. She is one of many managers at BAT who participated in the company’s management trainee program. “I knew that this company takes such programs seriously, and although I already had work experience with another firm, I wanted to shift to marketing and the program seemed to be the perfect opportunity for this.”

Lebovics spent months at the Swiss subsidiary of BAT as a marketing management trainee, and also worked at different areas of marketing during her trainee years. “I got exactly what I expected from the program, and I always felt that my job was taken seriously and contributed to the company’s activity,” she concluded.

Breeding future CEOs

The management trainee program of BAT, now organized at a regional level, assures the training of four or five future managers every year.“Our aim is to raise our next management generation within the company, so when selecting people for the program, we look for young people with the ambition to get into a leading position within a few years,” said Mihály Sallai, HR business partner at BAT Hungary.

The two-year program focuses on four areas: marketing, HR, finance, and communications and governmental relations. Aspirants should be ambitious and open-minded, but professional experience is not a must. “As they are mostly fresh graduates, they naturally don’t have professional experience. However, it is an advantage if the person gained some experience by working during their university years,” Sallai noted.

In general, trainees spend three to four months in different positions – they are often sent to various foreign branches of the company to gain international experience – and by the time they conclude the program, they are ready to take up a leading position (junior, mid- and later top management) at the firm.

But if trainees are trained to be the best in their areas, what is to keep them from utilizing their knowledge at another company? According to Sallai, there is no need for any written obligations or restrictions. “It is quite unusual elsewhere in the corporate world that a fresh graduate can reach management positions within a couple of years. Therefore we do not have any contracts that pin down our employees. I believe the opportunity we offer them speaks for itself and has enough retentive power to keep them with the company.” About half of the current top management at BAT started as a management trainee, he added.

Learning while doing

Learning on the job is a policy that many companies have employed for quite a while; however, its importance is gaining increasing ground lately.

At tax consultancy and accounting firm PwC, both technical and business skills development training is offered to employees. “We have training for employees at different levels and different business divisions. The majority of our training is held in-house,” Andrea G. Szilágyi, HR leader at PwC told the Budapest Business Journal. “Basically all of our employees receive some sort of training. At the top management level, this is typically business skills development training, while employees at lower levels are provided with technical training.”

Training is considered as an attraction tool when recruiting new employees, its retentive force is less significant. Training programs are usually customized for PwC’s own corporate culture; therefore it is not very common that trained employees leave the company and take their valuable knowledge with them. “We don’t make our employees sign a study contract. Of course, there are some dropouts, but their number is not significant,” Szilágyi said.

The majority of job applicants at PwC are motivated by the possibility of gaining experience in a professional working environment, and also by the chance of getting trained specifically for their future jobs. The chance to go abroad to work at any of PwC’s global offices is also attractive.

Customized ways

“Taking into account that there is a general learning curve all people undergo, and also taking into account the individual background of new hires and the area they will be responsible for, we come up with individualized training plans for each person,” Markus Hilken, support director at SAP Hungary, explained.

In general, the first months of training at SAP’s global support center contain classic classroom-type trainings to get an understanding of the company. This is followed by more detailed courses providing technical and functional aspects. From the second year on, trainings are based on SAP’s 70-20-10 model – 70% is learning on the job, 20% is coaching, and 10% is traditional training. From the third year on, trainings are very much individualized to bring people to a senior level where they can train the next generation.

SAP believes that trust might be a retaining force for people to stay with the company, but there are also some built-in guarantees. “We have no contract for ‘normal’ trainings, as we trust the people we have chosen, and this pays off in that the majority of people stay with us for years,” Hilken said. “However, we do make study contracts, depending on how we ‘sponsor’ the study. Part of the money we invested needs to be paid back if a person leaves the company.”

This article appeared in the BBJ's HR special edition on April 8, 2011.