10 Steps to Deliver a Best Practice Graduate Development Program in 2023


There’s no doubt about it, graduates today expect plenty of training and development opportunities from their employer. And they have big career progression goals to boot.

Combine this with increasing competition from other employers to attract graduates, it’s now essential to make sure your program has the best chance of success. Both in attracting, and retaining your grads – from onboarding right through to ‘roll-off’. Giving them a great experience from start to finish.

To help you, we’ve outlined the 10 steps you should take, based on more than 15 years experience working with clients globally on their early talent programs.


Here’s the 10 best practice steps we recommend.


1 Get a baseline understanding of the skills and experience your programme participants currently have.

It’s much more common now for candidates to be from a more diverse background and experience than in previous years. In fact, more often than not, the only commonality they have is their age.

That’s why knowing what skills they currently have, and how well they use them should be your starting point.

You can work this into your recruitment or onboarding process.

Universities are increasingly embedding soft skills into the final year of degree programs. But not all universities do this yet. And even the ones that do, it’s not across all courses.

Sources for this information might be:

2 Discover which skills your graduates want to develop. 

And why they feel these skills are important.

Often graduates want something that is a nice-to-have, easier skill, but not the difficult thing that gets them where they need to be, like goal-setting and achievement. Or developing a continuous learning plan.

These skills may be perceived as less interesting by your participants. But at DBL we’ve seen that these are the skills most needed at the start of their journey.

Doing this helps you identify whether their aspirations are aligned to actual business need.

If you discover a theme or trend running through your findings, make a judgment call on whether to include this skill training. Even if it’s not aligned to business needs.

A good reason for including this skill would be because it promotes engagement in the programme and builds a sense of belonging. Both are important reasons.

If you’re not sure, discuss with those managers who will be supporting the graduates. It could be worth doing, even if it’s a one-off.

Remember though. If you decide not to run this skill training, but it’s a popular request, communicate the reasons why to your participants. Let them know you’ll consider it at a future stage. Communication is key.

3 Decide the length of time to run your graduate programme. 

This includes the pre-start phase – where you keep participants engaged and excited for the programme to start. Often known as the ‘keep warm’ phase.

Your grad program starts from the moment your participants first experience the onboarding you’ve arranged for them, right through until they ‘roll-off’ your scheme.

This is the stage where the program is coming to an end, and you’re supporting or preparing them for their next career chapter.

Here at DBL we recommend 12-18 months for the length of your programme. Participants need time to apply what they learn in real work situations, as well as time for mentoring and coaching.

An option could also be to overlap cohorts for 3-6 months. This can build a sense of connection and offers opportunity for peer collaboration.


4 Keep your participants ‘warm’ before the program starts

When there’s a period of time between onboarding and when the program starts, keep participants engaged and nurtured.

Offer activities such as mentoring, coaching, workshops, and discussions with their line manager. Tailor the topics to match their placements.

During this stage, communication is key. Make sure you’re in touch with them throughout.

5 Expectations vs reality

At DBL we know, from years of working with grad cohorts, that career progression is a big goal for them. And they’re in a hurry to reach that destination as fast as possible. Before they’ve experienced the journey in fact.

So it’s important to communicate the message that they need to do the journey first, in order to reach their desired destination. That it’s not an immediate jump.

This will help you avoid the number one reason participants leave a program early: mismatched expectations.

To avoid these mismatched expectations, support managers to keep having conversations with their graduates, to help them stay engaged and to manage expectations. Making sure there’s a consistent pace of communication between them throughout.

6 Choose a set of skills you want participants to develop fast

These skills should be those which make them productive in as short an amount of time as possible.

Often these are the skills which develop them into autonomous workers, albeit with some guidance in place. Examples of these could be teamwork and collaboration, resilience, and adaptability.

Remember it’s important for managers to communicate with their grads about why these skills are important, in a way that makes sense to them. (Refer back to steps 2 and 5 about why this is so essential.)

If you’re not sure what these skills should be, you could run focus groups with career and placement managers and make an educated judgment based on findings.

7 Plan your program ‘touchpoints’ 

Touchpoints are the experiences and activities you offer participants, from onboarding through to ‘roll-off’.

These could include coaching, mentoring, networking, training, and skill application sessions, and workshops to solve real-world business or industry problems.

In terms of choosing how many skills to develop – best practice is to select fewer skills and space these out over time. Allowing for more space to apply and embed what they’ve learned.

8 Conduct ongoing assessment of the program

Conduct ongoing assessments to monitor how well things are going.

These could be in the form of focus groups, for e.g. to keep track of feedback of how participants experience the training modules. Or to assess how well participants are embedding the new behaviours learned on the training.

Ongoing assessments are also a useful opportunity to collect information to feed into the final review of the program. And can provide insights into how the needs of the participants and the business are being met.

9 Plan a ‘roll-off’ stage for your graduate program

A ‘roll-off’ stage is timed for the end of your program. Designed to support participants in their career transition from graduate scheme to first job. Known to be a challenging time for them, while they switch from graduate status to becoming a regular employee.

To support them through this transition you could offer activities such as help with how to apply for a job, interview skills, build a portfolio and showcase your work, alumni networking, opportunities to talk to previous grads, mentoring, and work shadowing for different functions.

10 Review the program’s success

Once the program has ended, conduct a review to gauge the program’s success. Even more important if a program is being run for the first time.

Assess whether objectives or outcomes were achieved, did behaviour change in the desired direction, were undesirable behaviours reduced.

If there’s a positive outcome and behaviours moved in the desired direction, this would be considered a success.

However, if a program doesn’t achieve the objective and outcome hoped for, this is also ok. In this situation, look at what could be done differently the next time around. Think about, is this the right scheme for our people, what else could we do.

These 10 steps are best practice, with each step having an influence on the other steps. It’s not about selecting which ones to include and which ones to leave out. It’s about designing and then implementing a program that incorporates all these elements.

Not sure you’re covering all these steps? 

Book a free consultation with one of our expert team to talk about your program. Whether that’s to improve your existing graduate program or to create a new scheme.


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Lyndon Baker Senior Instructional Designer

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