“Working on the drought response program in 2019, during the throes of Sydney’s worst drought on record … was a unique opportunity to work with senior leaders across the business to implement critical activities to manage and protect Greater Sydney’s water supply including water restrictions, water efficiency and community awareness initiatives. This rotation gave me a chance to gain invaluable communications experience and broaden my network across the organisation.”
Sue Bentley from Sydney Water said its graduate program which has been running since the early 1990s had been recently ranked number one by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers. The program recruits 15 new graduates each year across a range of areas from engineering, science, digital and analytics to business, supply chain and communications.
“We help our graduates discover their potential through a wide range of learning opportunities including on-the-job training and mentoring,” she said.
After 18 months on the program graduates can apply for permanent positions.
Ms Bentley said graduate recruits were not selected for their academic transcript alone. Extra-curricular activities and work experience were among a broader range of factors considered. And graduates often found themselves working outside their original field of university study.
“We have had civil engineers who have found themselves in permanent positions in strategy,” she said.
Elliot Cichero, who is in his second year of the Sydney Water program after graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of NSW in 2019, is working with a team looking at how Sydney Water can better prepare for the impacts of climate change. He has also completed rotations with the regional planning team and the drought response team. He said working in the different areas has made him aware of a variety of ways he can apply his engineering degree.
“The ability to choose where in the business you would like to be placed is really unique,” he said.
“Sydney Water allows you to branch out of what you have studied at uni.”
Global professional services company PwC also offers an apprenticeship program to high school graduates. The Higher Apprenticeship program offers a two-year non-degree program that involves completion of a Certificate IV and then a Diploma in Information Technology.
“PwC Australia recognises the importance of adopting a digital first mindset and selected the IT qualifications to ensure that higher apprentices have the technical and digital skills that will assist them in building strong careers at the firm, now and into the future, with in demand skills such as programming (Python), an understanding of cyber security and data analytics,” a spokeswoman for PwC said.
The apprentices are taught business skills and are coached on the job by senior staff. Applications for the apprenticeships open around July.
Online jobs platform Indeed surveyed 255 tertiary students who were graduating last year or this year and found that many were concerned about facing a more competitive job market with fewer opportunities for graduates.
Jay Munro, who is head of career insights at Indeed, said its research shows that smaller organisations will be more likely to hire graduates at the same rate in 2021 as they have in previous years, whereas large organisations are going to be more likely to cut back their graduate intake this year.
“For graduates, flexibility remains key during this period and looking at small to medium organisations as a viable career path will help them to access new employment opportunities,” he said.
”Graduates can also broaden their job prospects by looking for roles they think they’d be a good fit for that aren’t necessarily part of a traditional graduate program. They can do this by researching the organisation and identifying the skills they have that the employer is looking for, as well as any other complementary and transferable skills.“
Mr Munro said Indeed’s research showed that employers were prioritising graduates with soft skills above other factors including high marks and work experience.
“Employers called out qualities including resilience, a positive attitude, good interpersonal skills, adaptability and a strong work ethic as what they’re looking for in the graduate recruitment process,” he said. “Graduates applying for jobs would be wise to keep this in mind and ensure they reference these skills both in written applications and during the interview process. Going to interviews prepared with examples of when they’ve demonstrated these skills in previous roles or during their studies is a good idea.”
Sachin Santhosh, a 24-year-old fourth-year electrical engineering from south-east Melbourne is hoping to get a job with a power company but says the competition for graduate positions has become increasingly tough. He has been hoping to get a graduate position with a big power company but is also looking at small businesses “to get my foot in the door”.
“The competition was tough before but even tougher now with COVID,” he said.
Kate Save, chief executive officer and co-founder of Be Fit Food, that says her small business that employs 15 staff said it will continue to hire a graduate dietitian each year. The business provides home-delivered meals designed by a doctor and a team of dieticians.
The business, founded in 2015, also works with universities in Melbourne to provide work experience for students studying nutrition and dietetics. She said her company, which delivers 30,000 meals a week across the country, was looking to continually innovate and was interested in hiring graduates with fresh ideas and a thirst for continuous learning.
“We are looking for someone who has a willingness to keep on top of new research and keep ahead of new trends. They have to have a desire to keep learning and that’s what makes our company different. We don’t just refer to clinical guidelines written in 1994.”
Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.