Bringing graduate talent into the merchant industry



Wolseley UK has, this year, signed recruitment firm Discovery Graduates for the third year running in its hunt for the best talent to join its Management Training Programme. So what makes this partnership such a success?

“The most important thing is a personalised and rigorous selection process”, says Jonathan Evans, Founder of the Discovery ADR Group. “It is essential that the process of graduate recruitment is a thorough one to ensure that graduates we place are the right fit for the business and, and that the business is right for the graduate. This ensures that both sides are wholly committed to each other from the start.”

Will Stratton secured a place on Wolseley’s Management Training Programme in 2014. “Discovery was very open about what companies wanted and the experience they were looking for. They knew a lot about the role and therefore could advise on how best to prepare. As part of the Wolseley selection process I spent a couple of hours in a Wolseley UK branch ahead of my interview so I arranged to spend a day in my local Plumb Center. It was not something that I would have thought of doing myself but it gave me insight into the company which was invaluable at interview.”

At a time when graduate retention nationally is low, Jonathan believes that companies need to do everything they can to get the right people in first time round. “Although companies are looking for a quicker return on their graduates there is still a definite need to take the time to develop graduate talent. There is no ‘quick fix’ and many companies rush to recruit what they perceive to be the ‘best’ graduates, without taking the time to identify what it really is that they need. But it’s a costly mistake”.

A report from the CEB last year highlighted that 40% of graduates leave their job within the first year, but Discovery is bucking this trend with a 90% retention rate. “Alongside the interview process we use behavioural profiling to help graduates to develop self-awareness, identify their strengths, and their areas for development. It also helps us to identify a range of jobs that would suit their skill set and temperament - beyond those which directly relate to their degree or which they would have thought of themselves. It also means that we find people who are a good cultural fit for the business and who have a genuine passion and the right attitude to work in that particular sector and role.”

Alex Sanné was in the first cohort of Graduate IT Management Trainees and started in October 2014. “I originally applied for an operations position but Discovery suggested that that I was probably better suited to the IT programme. I thought they were crazy as I had very little technical IT knowledge but they said Wolseley were looking for somebody with business experience, who was open minded and could learn quickly. Discovery recognised in me the right personality and skill set and were clear this was more important than technical knowledge – and they were right. I would never have thought about applying for the IT role one but I really enjoy it and now know it was the right job for me.”

But as Jonathan knows, getting the right people is just the first step. “The development of your talent is just as important as recruiting the right people, when it comes to retention. Businesses need to look at graduate recruitment and development as a longer term investment in order to improve retention and get a better return on their original investment. Wolseley UK is a perfect example of a company doing just that.”

Getting onto the Management Training Programme at Wolseley UK is just the first step – the new recruits are then put through their paces on the ground and in the classroom. Graduate trainee Alice Wise explains, “On the Management Training Programme we have 2-3 day training courses every other month which cover every aspect of the business, alongside things like motivating a team, or understanding branch accounts. I’ve also taken advantage of additional training such as presentation skills – there are lots of ‘optional’ training courses and Wolseley UK supports you to do as much training as is possible.”

So how is this investment in graduate talent affecting the business? Sarah Bullock, Head of People Capability and Development, Wolseley UK, said: “We want the best branch employees in the industry – and we want to retain them. Our Management Training Programme helps us achieve this by attracting top, passionate new trainees, getting them to roll their sleeves up and giving them early responsibility.

“We aim to stretch them and get them to run their own projects. By exposing them to all areas of our business, our future managers get a fantastic understanding of how we operate and will be more informed, engaged and best equipped to lead high performing teams.”

Luke Evans, who is also part of the 2014 cohort, agrees. “Having knowledge of the whole business and being really close to it makes it much more likely that you will stay with the company for longer, because you’re totally engaged,” he said. “I’m building networks across the business and I’m developing my knowledge and insight every day. I feel part of something bigger.”

So far, 100% of Wolseley’s Management Trainees have chosen to stay on with the business after completing the programme.

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