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Whenever I thought of the print industry I pictured big warehouses printing stacks of newspapers: I guess I just thought of print as being quite old-fashioned,” recalls one of them.

Another admits unflatteringly “If I’m honest, with recent technology I was under the impression print was outdated”. Meanwhile a third rookie printer “knew the basics: requests come in, print goes out”.
All of them have now wised up to the reality of print in the here and now. And all of them did so by completing the graduate training scheme of secure print and document delivery specialist Datagraphic. The longest-serving graduate whizz kid, marketing executive Steve Lovell, says the rapidly changing print sector echoes big change in the graduate recruitment market.
“Graduate schemes offer benefits to employees as well as employers,” he says. “Introducing graduates into a business brings new eyes and fresh ideas. In today’s fast-moving print world, there are always new technologies coming on stream and new ways to do business especially in this digital age. Graduates, often strong on creativity and innovation, are right for today’s print world.”

The challenge
Datagraphic sought to harness these qualities by launching an in-house graduate training programme, but it threw up as many questions as potential benefits, recalls marketing director Suzanne Beech: what is the business justification for recruiting and developing graduates, how do you attract the right candidates, what cost-effective working practices will they bring your business?
“It started as an idea,” she says of the initiative launched four years ago. “We had evolved from a traditional text and business forms business to one that also presents online versions, hosting more than 3 million documents a year on secure portals for clients such as banks, retailers and transport organisations, including over 10% of the FTSE 100 companies. We had a team of programmers, but their knowledge was more focused on print. We needed fresh ideas.
“This meant more focus on online portals, social media and other digital arenas and we reckoned we could get it by bringing into the business new IT, marketing and programming graduates to give us this fresh view and new skillsets.
“Datagraphic was expanding. Demand for Multi-channel services was strong and for the business to continue to thrive we needed to invest in people with the skillset to assist that growth.”
The trouble was, at that time, there was not a well-defined graduate training scheme within the print industry, she explains. Efforts to glean advice and information from local training and recruitment agencies and nearby printers left Beech and her colleagues “scratching our heads”. It was also hard for SMEs such as 75-staff Datagraphic to launch graduate training because they often lack in-house training skills. However, help came from a source closer to the business fold.
In 2013 multi-channel business document specialist Prolog Print Media, which produces secure communications from e-payslips to total reward statements and document printing, acquired Rugby’s Datagraphic. Prolog had already been running a graduate scheme from its base in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, working with a local council and a training specialist consultancy. Beech’s team in the Midlands decided to try and run similar training 70 miles south in Rugby.

Method
“We wanted to replicate What Prolog was doing down here at Datagraphic, but there are big regional differences in training and the lack of anything similar in the Rugby area meant we had to approach a consultancy for a scheme tailored for our needs.”
Working with the experts Beech identified what they wanted to achieve, the type of candidates they wanted to recruit and how they aimed to get them. The consultancy helped draw up job specifications and then target them at the newly qualified graduate community, not just through the university press, but websites, social media and all those other channels that a new crop of graduate trainees would help the company to master to the nth degree.
As well as job ads, the consultancy arranged open days to encourage graduates into the premises to help blow away the fuddy-duddy myth of print as an outdated medium locked in the dark ages. This way a host of graduates came to realise the sector is as much about dynamic personalised documents, minute-critical mailings and multi-channel delivery as good-old ink on paper.
The consultancy also handled the interview process, which involved a videoed quick-fire Q&A session to see just how good the graduates were at thinking on their feet. This was followed up by telephone interviews and only when a shortlist had been drawn up did the consultancy hand over to Datagraphic to carry out formal face-to-face interviews.
The kind of graduates the company was looking for depended on where they saw themselves in the print mix. Those with interests in digital media and online communications often lent towards marketing, fast thinkers with good interpersonal skills were seen as potential multi-channel product managers, while hardcore IT junkies had a natural fit in programming management.

The result
Steve Lovell joined Datagraphic in 2012 after a year-out travelling following the completion of his degree in marketing and advertising from Lancaster University. He gained experience in client services and marketing, programming and product management, has been on courses in social media, content writing and search engine optimisation and had a dedicated mentor throughout training.
“When I joined my idea of print was that it was a dying trade and a lot of my friends agreed,” he says echoing many of the graduates who joined after him: commercial graduate Naomi Rabidas, graduate trainee software developers Lynda Taylor, Joe Brightman, Marnix Moerland and Damien Gadek, HybridMail product executive Holly Bullick, marketing executive Jade Bradfield and graduate marketing executive Phoebe Ord.
“My time at Datagraphic has been exciting,” adds Lovell. “Not only was it my first job inside the world of marketing, it was my first ever experience within the print industry. It enabled me to put what I had learned at university into practice and also allowed me to put my own stamp on this ever-changing industry.”
However, launching the scheme was a challenge and Suzanne Beech insists using a specialist consultant is a “wise investment”. And although she is reluctant to disclose the full details, she does reveal that the cost of using a consultancy is “comparable” with the fees for advertising in national, regional and industry press. It is also hard to put a figure on the benefits the graduate intake because it works in established teams.
“But the company has enjoyed a 15% increase in turnover year on year for the last four or five years and graduates would have undoubtedly played their part. The bank of fresh ideas has been very welcome and given us more breadth and depth of knowledge, which our existing staff have been able to give sharp commercial focus.”
That said, graduate training must be no less focused, she advises: “Our training is not about fixed quotas of graduates and this will never be a training scheme for the sake of a training scheme. It will grow, but organically rather than by hard and fast percentages plucked out of the air. Students have just come out of university: they are used to learning and eager to learn more, so you have to have a very structured training programme to keep them interested and stimulate their minds.
“This is absolutely crucial to other print companies thinking of launching their own in-house training. Graduates will be very hungry to learn and keen to develop their skills. This is not just about recruitment, it’s a two-way thing; it’s about taking people and your company forward, helping them in their career and investing in the company’s future.”

Top Tips
Set targets Ask yourself what are the overall aims of the graduate scheme and how you will integrate graduates into the business in the long term.
Use experts Recruitment and training consultancies can help you determine the best ways to filter CVs, assess applicants and then structure their training.
Plan ahead It’s important to have a structured plan in place for graduate schemes, but also to be flexible if it needs tweaks.
Appoint mentors Identify staff who will look after and manage your graduates and steer them through their coaching programme.
Get feedback Sound out your graduates on which processes are working, what may need changing and how their skills can transfer across departments to benefit the company.
Be diverse Graduates are used to learning so make sure training is stimulating by offering different projects and tasks to test their ability and develop their skills.
Learn from your trainees Graduates have insight, so develop open dialogue and give them the freedom to express