In 1982 I started my career as a trainee. Philips Electronics wanted to hire some fresh forces for the personnel department and they thought a traineeship was the solution. After a tough selection process four eager high potentials were selected, and I was one of the lucky four. In 1994 I was the last of the four musketeers to leave this big multinational.
Many big companies think a traineeship is necessary to hire high potentials. Not many companies are able to successfully design and sustain traineeships. Often the pattern is as follows. It starts with a big campaign. “We are looking for the future top!”. Out of a large group of candidates four to ten trainees are selected. The main ingredients of the traineeship: training, job rotation and coaching. As the expectations of the trainees are very high, the reality of the working life in the big company is often disappointing. Sometimes the trainees are not so welcome. Departments are not very keen to have a trainee, as they know they will leave after a couple of months. The promised frequent contact with top managers turns out to be an annual Q&A with one of the board members, often not the CEO, as he is busy busy busy. Often it is not clear who feels responsible for the trainees. As a result many traineeships start with a lot of poeha, and after a couple of years they starve a natural death. If the organization is lucky, a few trainees stay and have a good career. The exception: organizations where nearly all new employees start as trainees, mainly in professional services (consultancy, law firms).
It is time to redesign traineeships. Seven elements to take into account:
1. Make the selection process more open and transparent
Be clear about the criteria, and open up application for everybody who qualifies. Also encourage people who already work in your organisation to apply.
2. Extend the time horizon
Do not stop the trainee program after two-three years. People can be a trainee as long as they qualify and perform.
3. Tailor the program to the individual needs of the trainees
The more you are able to offer developmental opportunities that fit the needs of the trainees, the better you will be able to keep them connected to your organisation.
4. Focus the training on on-the-job training, supported by e-learning
This is connected to point 3.
5. Change the focus
From “What should we learn the trainees?” to “What can we learn from the trainees?”.
6. Give the trainees real jobs and real assignments
Frequent job rotations are not very helpful, as it does not help the trainees to be able to deliver real results.
7. Assign responsibility at the top
Make one of the senior managers responsible for the traineeship. For HR it is often difficult to pull the right levers.
Traineeships can be successful if organisations are willing to take a new approach. Key words: open, transparent, not exclusive, tailor made and result oriented.