Engineering firms need to rethink the graduate problem


Young engineers know their skills are in high demand so companies must be smarter when trying to engage them, says Alex Parkes, future talent strategist at AIA Worldwide.

Why do so many companies struggle to find the best STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates? A major problem is the way they engage with candidates.

STEM graduates know their skills are in high demand and they expect companies to be proactive in getting their attention and convincing them they have an edge over the competition. Yet most companies fail to produce the kind of recruitment campaigns that resonate with these applicants. They lack relevant content and creativity and are often too general in their messaging. 

Graduates with niche skills respond well to companies that try to enter their world to find out what they want from a career. Once they’ve entered the mind-set of the candidate, employers can then create a bespoke campaign around their preferences.

Getting this crucial information isn’t easy. It requires ongoing engagement and the flexibility to produce a tailored campaign. Brand guidelines can be restrictive and this sometimes limits how creative organisations can be when initiating recruitment drives.

Instead of producing bespoke campaigns, companies are resigned to subjecting all candidates to the same recruitment processes. The challenge with this approach is STEM graduates crave different kinds of content. Many are very detail orientated and want to discuss highly technical and scientific developments with potential employers. They also like peer-to-peer discussions and getting feedback from employees and interns.

For candidates seeking less technical roles, a strong brand name, a well-written job description and the opportunity to present to an employer, is often enough incentive to get them to apply for a position.

Engineering students respond well when potential employers engage them on an intellectual level.

Effective campaigns

Successful recruitment campaigns are not only about getting to know the mind-set and preferences of selected candidates. They’re also about creating a relationship that guides their journey from job seeker to employee.

A lot of engineering companies manage this relationship by targeting students when they are young so they don’t lose them to other industries. In some cases they can start before sixth form offering apprenticeships or work experience opportunities and funding their accreditations.

Other companies reach out to STEM candidates at university level by getting them to join focus groups on campus. In this scenario the students are incentivised to share their views and to express their passions and interests with recruiters and to engage with them on projects and initiatives. This knowledge helps the companies produce effective job campaigns.

We recently completed a successful recruitment drive with the electronics company Thales called Project Arduino – an initiative born out of feedback from a select group of engineering graduates.

The participants liked using new technologies and producing new innovations so Thales asked them to create a project of their own related to a Thales business area using Arduino’s open-source electronics platform. This was a soft approach to getting them to understand the business rather than a hard sell. And it worked.

The intellectual challenge of the project piqued the interest of the engineers and allowed them to be innovative and to showcase their talent and training. It also tapped into the engineer’s creative side and skill set.

Thales gave the participants ongoing support via Twitter, with specially trained graduates on hand to keep the conversation going while students were completing their projects. By the time the initiative was finished, all of the candidates had established a good relationship with the Thales teams.

Furthermore, a lot of video content was created for the projects, which was shared via social media feeds, and there were opportunities to vote on the best ideas. This allowed Thales to consistently engage with the candidates and their circle of friends, many of who had similar skills and were also potential new employees.

The engineers appreciated the creative side of the Thales project but equally important was the fact they weren’t directly ‘sold’ the Thales brand. They bought into the company because they enjoyed the workshop and the company’s cool and innovative approach to capturing their imaginations.

Consequently engineering applications rose by 60% and their internship applications doubled.

Lessons learned

The success of the Thales project proves that employer brand propositions should be tailored to a variety of audiences due to the marked differences between them. Employers also need to understand the kind of characters that are attracted to certain profession before they design a campaign.

We recently conducted a photo booth recruitment campaign for one particular company, encouraging students to dress up as a professor and to share their images on social media channels.

The brand increased the company’s social engagement but it was less successful as a recruitment drive because in some instances the STEM candidates were too introverted to participate. Being silly in front of the camera made them feel a little out of their comfort zone. What they wanted was to show their intelligence and share their ideas.

When the STEM graduates worked together with their peers during the Arduino project they came alive during the presentations. They proved to be the sort of candidates all companies want: talented individuals who are engaged with their work and excited about what they do.

Attracting top talent will always be a challenge for companies but knowing how to enter the mind set of target candidates is the right approach to winning them over. This might take some time, effort and money, but what can be achieved in return is invaluable to securing the future pipeline of a business.