Shifting Graduate Recruitment at Serco

September 16, 2020 Alison Fishlock

graduate hiring

First published on LinkedIn - 15 September 2020

Graduate program recruitment has seen dramatic change over recent years – and then a further step change when hiring had to move online following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With applications to universities falling, the lure of the young start-up, the appeal of apprenticeships and greater social mobility, those organizations focused on attracting graduates from specific universities with specific exam grades in particular subjects may be missing out on some of the best talent around.

A number of high profile, well-known graduate employers have already shifted their grad hiring approach. Grant Thornton became the first professional services firm to take out the academic qualifications from its graduate scheme entry requirements and Penguin Random House scrapped its graduate schemes altogether and removed the need to have a degree from all its UK jobs.

Such organizations look beyond the degree and the CV - and looking more at the specific competencies, abilities and values that the candidates offer.

A great example of how an organization is embracing this shift in hiring for its new graduate program is UK-based public services organization, Serco and we are proud to be working alongside them.

The work of the Serco team has been inspirational, and we were delighted to learn that they have been shortlisted by the UK Social Mobility Awards in the ‘Recruitment Programme of the year’ category. The award programme recognises and celebrates the achievements of businesses and organisations across the country in their work of advancing social mobility.

Rethinking Graduate Hires at Serco Group plc

As a complex and varied Group providing public services across the health, transport, justice, immigration, defence and citizens service sectors, Serco strives to attract and employ from across a diverse talent pool to reflect the communities that it serves.

An important part of its talent strategy was the introduction of its graduate program.

Anthony Kirby, Group COO told us:

“For some, diversity and complexity are a challenge when hiring graduates. For us, it is an opportunity. We bring together a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences and give them the opportunity to build a career in a diverse organization and to deliver the very best public services.”

“Our aim was to design a graduate program that was quite different to the typical graduate schemes and this impacts the people we recruit into the scheme. We decided not to target specific universities or define courses or grades. We wanted to be open to the broadest talent pool possible.”

As such, Serco focused its attention on designing an engaging, candidate-centred and contemporary looking application and assessment process. It incorporated leading edge ability and situational judgment tests, video interviewing and assessment centers – and made sure the decisions were taken swiftly and communicated quickly.

Last year was a highly successful intake year.

This year’s graduate hiring plans were turned on their head as Covid-19 shut down the in-person assessment days. With swiftness the Serco team worked with us to redesign them and shift them into the virtual arena using the virtual assessment platform.

To help allay the concerns to the change in format of the days, the team designed an animated video to explain what would happen. Video messages were recorded by senior Serco managers to reinforce the messaging and they also attended some sessions to help make the day feel natural and unstaged.

Jane Crane, Talent Acquisition Director told us:

“We knew we still needed to attract and recruit a high level of quality candidates and so we made the decision to shift entirely to virtual recruitment – even our assessment centers.

It has been a real success story – with great feedback from hiring managers and candidates.

We spent a lot of time thinking about how best to run the assessment days and carry out the video interviewing. The result is a clear demonstration to candidates that we walk and talk our values. We really care – and it showed.”

The results

Serco has now built a graduate program hiring process that not only attracts talent from a range of backgrounds and experiences but leads them through a leading-edge assessment process, engaging with them every step of the way.

Their commitment to this project has resulted in:

  • A diverse graduate cohort joining its graduate program.
  • An increase in applicants from BAME backgrounds.
  • A positively received candidate experience which is convenient, well-defined and innovative.
  • A hiring process that enables decisions to be made quickly.
  • A standardized and objective hiring process capable of being deployed internationally.
  • A virtual assessment day format that really works.

Kirby comments,

“We have been able to build a recruitment campaign that focuses in on the individual candidate, their values and their fit with us as an organization. We are not just making our numbers but getting the right people for our business, based on behavior, motivation and values.”

We work with a range of clients, helping them rethink their graduate hiring process. If you want to explore how we could work with you, contact us!


About the Author

Alison Fishlock

Alison Fishlock is an Account Manager with more over 16 years’ experience managing multiple bespoke assessment projects for early careers recruitment, experienced hires and talent development. She is passionate about helping clients to make the best people decisions and to date, Alison’s account work has spanned a range of private and public sector organizations.

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