I vividly remember finding the first 12 months of my graduate program being extremely difficult. It started the months following 9/11. Ambiguity, change, and uncertainty reigned.
Some graduate employers were canceling programs, postponing cohorts and in some cases making graduates redundant within weeks of starting them. Resilience skills, emotional resilience and resilience psychology were all things graduates needed.
My Graduate Experience Was Tough
Securing my graduate role pre-9/11, I was joining a consulting arm to help senior leaders solve complex, strategic client problems. It sounded great and I was super excited. It turned out, however, there now wasn’t a lot of that type of work around post 9/11.
Instead, when I turned up on day one, post 9/11, I found myself in audit.
A marketing grad.
Naturally, I found the work exhausting and hard. I hadn't studied accounting or technology and had zero interest in either. The hours were long and the manager’s expectations were high. I was incredibly frustrated. I felt very lonely and there were countless times I wanted to quit.
In hindsight, that difficult career transition gave me mentors and networks I still value and am in touch with today. And, a suite of business skills, mindsets and tools I would not have learnt otherwise and that I use today leading a business. Resilience was key.
Fast-forward eighteen years and ambiguity, change and uncertainty are still here. And so is the need for graduates to develop resilience skills.
Graduates need help developing resilience
The latest QS Global Skills Gap Report has found resilience to be in the top three skills graduates lack – particularly in Australia and the United Kingdom. What’s more, graduates underestimate the extent to which they lack resilience.
There’s a bunch of reasons we could debate as to why this gap exists. A part of the problem may be today’s graduate’s historically low participation in part-time work during the university years. They miss out on learning things the hard way by dealing with a bad boss, a screaming customer or having to back up for an exam after a long night shift. But that’s a discussion for another time.
We need to work together as an industry to address this gap – employers, education and providers. Efforts are being made with 100% of graduate employers in Australia, for instance, assessing for resilience during the recruitment process, with 43% considering it as ‘very important’ (AAGE, 2019).
Assessing during selection is not enough.
Early career development programs, graduate programs included, need to address the resilience gap through their content, tools, and opportunities to develop the necessary skills.
If performance in the job is not reason enough, let’s remember mental health is a massive problem with our young people, and our early career and graduate cohorts are not immune. A recent study reported 70% of graduates have experienced mental health issues. (CMHA, 2019)
Graduates have questions about resilience skills.
Given many graduates underestimate the extent to which they lack resilience, lots of questions get asked when the topic is raised. Here are five common questions:
What does career resilience mean?
How do you develop resilience at work?
Why is resilience important for early career growth?
Can you learn to be more resilient?
What makes someone more resilient?
How to help grads become more resilient
So much can be done! Here is one tool, and one approach, almost any early-career or graduate development program can take to help close the gap.
One tool employers can include in their development programs to help graduates develop resilience skills is called ‘reframing’.
Reframing is one of the most powerful tools behavioural science gives us.
Humans have an amazing ability to endure and thrive when we re-frame adverse or difficult situations in a more positive light. For example, a graduate not getting the rotation they want could be “the end of my career” or “a chance to learn new skills and build new networks”.
However, reframing can be difficult in the moment. The good news is there are ways to teach reframing to make it easier and practical to use day-to-day.
Reframing should be actively taught and practiced in development programs.
An approach employers can take to help graduates develop resilience, is to design their programs through the lens of Connectedness.
Research shows the more connected people feel while embracing new challenges, the more likely they are to persevere and succeed. Development programs, therefore, should be designed to enhance connectedness. For example, invest in engaging the managers of participants with the program in lots of different ways, so they can connect with graduates and offer support and guidance when things get tough. As well, apply social learning techniques – where graduates learn through interaction and deliberate experience sharing.
There are so many ways development programs can help address the gap in resilience skills, and there are even more reasons why in 2019 it is so important that they do.
Josh Mackenzie is the Chairman, Founder of DBL. He is a purpose driven leader who is passionate about business as a force for good.