Early Careers are vital to the future of a business

  • November 19, 2020

HR Insights  - Kimberly Rowling

We have been speaking to clients and candidates across the market and are seeing a number of organisations either halting or substantially reducing, their hiring in the graduate space due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This is an alarming trend. Graduate Programmes are vital for many organisations, as they provide a future generation of talent and not hiring in this space could present longer term challenges. They also have a huge impact on employer brand, especially if they are delivered successfully. They offer a fresh perspective and innovative ideas which, in turn, allows organisations to grow and thrive.  

With this in mind, we have spoken to three Early Careers Specialists to gather their insights into how businesses can address the challenges around delivering Graduate Programmes in the current market.

We have spoken to 2 consultants, Jessica Jones and Samantha Ridgewell to get a holistic overview of their approach and potential solutions. Additionally, we have a deep focus interview below with Kimberley Rowling, Graduate Programme Manager for the BT Group to get insight to what she is driving internally within BT.  

Below we hear from Kimberly Rowling, Graduate Programme Manager at BT Group.

Kimberly is the Graduate Programme Manager for BT Group, with a wealth of experience within talent and development specialising in Early Careers. Kimberley has successfully continued running the Graduate Programmes for BT, and with many organisations putting their graduate programs on hold, it’s great to hear how she has managed to run these programs successfully during the coronavirus restrictions.

Thanks for talking to us Kim. Can you tell us a bit about how you built your career in Talent Management and Early Careers?

Straight after university I joined the recruitment sector and worked for an employment agency, which I loved. I really enjoyed working with a variety of different people and helping them navigate careers and roles. After a few years of progressing in a number of different roles, I decided to join an in-house recruitment team. I joined the BBC’s talent team and quickly realised that HR covered so many different areas, that I really should explore to help me find my passion. So that’s what I set about doing, gaining as much insight and experience across the different HR departments across different industries and sectors as possible. I moved into generalist HR within the retail sector and from there I found a role within the real estate sector where I had the opportunity to work in Learning and Development, which was an incredible and invaluable experience. This is where I found my passion within Early Careers owning to the end to end cycle for Graduate and Apprentice Programmes. 

“At BT, my current role is Pan-BT Graduate Programme Manager. Working for a company that is leading in innovation and technology with around 700 Graduates is awe-inspiring. I get to meet brilliant young people who are passionate, eager and keen to take their first steps in the industry.” 

Also, for me personally my job is so important because it plays a huge part in closing skills gaps, meeting future skills demand and recruiting and developing the future lifeblood of the organisation. 

Early Careers is a particular passion of mine. It is your responsibility to design and implement a best in class experience, creating a Graduate/Apprentice end-to-end programme which meets the need of the individuals as well as the future demands of the business, while also ensuring a diverse future talent pipeline. 

Many organisations have either cancelled or placed their Graduate Programmes on hold due to not finding ways to run the Programmes remotely.  How have you managed this?

Firstly, BT made a bold statement early this year because we knew these were unprecedented times. We contacted every Graduate who had been through the recruitment process and told them that we would honor their contracts. This was really reassuring and supportive to the new cohort coming into the business. 

“Early Careers play a huge role in the future success of our business, so there was never any doubt we would continue with the Programmes.” 

As a technology business we have the tools, technology and platforms to continue to deliver so switching everything we did physically to virtually was the natural solution. We have learned a lot of lessons and will take these with us into next year to ensure the continued success of our Graduate and Apprentice Programmes.

When we started exploring virtual onboarding it became clear we needed to focus on five key experiences the new starters would have:

1.    Logging into a laptop
2.    Sending an email or message
3.    Joining a MS Teams call
4.    Accessing Workplace
5.    Being able to send a text. 

When we agreed those were the five things that were most important when joining an organisation and getting set up, our teams within Technology and HR worked closely together to prioritise them. 

“That’s ultimately what we focused on; the end-users and how we could make their lives as simple and easy as possible.” 

It was all about immersing the new Graduates in the BT culture, and getting them excited about starting their careers with us virtually, and this is something I’ll be taking into next year. Recording welcome talks and having these available online was so helpful to reassure people. Virtual onboardings and inductions can still be interactive and engaging if you get the design and timings right, and ensure there is enough variation with guest speakers, training, and insights into different areas of the business. It was a huge team effort and a great success.

What were the main challenges (if any) you overcame when designing the programme?

The biggest challenge was logistics and the distribution of equipment to all the Graduates. Due to COVID, people had moved around quite a lot and were either living with family members or had moved to a new location, so making sure we could get equipment to them was crucial. Our Digital Experience team did an incredible job to make sure our Graduates had laptops, phones and dedicated technical support to help them get set-up.

Another challenge we had was keeping engagement going, helping them to network and keeping them motivated. However, the adaptability and resilience of our Early Careers Team and the events we hosted remotely in order to encourage a sense of community and belonging is something we are incredibly proud of. 

Did you have to make many changes to your program in light of the coronavirus restrictions?

We had to move some of our development programmes to virtual learning and our induction was also entirely digital. It’s made us think really differently about how we approach this next year. 

Don’t get me wrong, COVID has been a huge disruption to all! As a mother of three children that works full time, I have spent next to no time with my extended family and friends and rarely left the house! But what it has done, is made me approach and look at things very differently, and given me a totally different view of what is possible, virtually. And that’s what I’m focusing on – the positive learnings and reflections that we can continue with year on year. 


In light of all the discussions around Diversity & Inclusion at the moment how have you managed to incorporate D&I into your programme?

At BT, we are determined to build an open, inclusive culture that celebrates and promotes diversity. We are working with organisations such as the Aleto Foundation to attract and engage talent from diverse backgrounds. These initiatives play a vital role in identifying and developing the next generation of leaders from communities and students from diverse backgrounds providing mentoring, coaching and development programmes. 

Earlier this year, BT launched its Ethnicity Rapid Action Plan to help us go further and faster as a business. Our Ethnicity Rapid Action Plan focuses on the four areas where we feel we can make the biggest initial difference:

Accelerating diversity within: We’re creating a new fast-stream for high potential people from ethnic minority backgrounds, all of whom will be personally mentored by a Senior Mentor. We will also have diverse shortlists for every senior management role.

Educating and empowering our people: We’re introducing a new programme of mandatory race awareness training for everyone in BT. It will be immersive, offer guidance, champion diversity and it will support managers to tackle these critical issues.

Leading by example: Every member of our Executive Committee will have a greater understanding of issues faced by ethnic minority communities and is equipped to lead the fight for equality. Each of the Executive Committee has committed to either have an ethnic minority reverse mentor or serve as a non-executive director for a community organisation serving ethnic minorities.

Building transparency: We are addressing the gaps in our own data, encouraging self-declaration of identity, to help us build a rich profile of our workforce. This will underpin the introduction of an annual ethnicity pay audit, backed by action, and a new ethnicity dashboard will enable us to track progress across the colleague lifecycle and set targets for the Senior Leadership Team.

There is a real drive for change, and I think that is representative across all industries and sectors and it feels great to be a part of that driving force. 


Big thank you to Kimberly for giving us some great insight into what BT Group are doing to ensure their Graduate Programme stays on track in these challenging times.

Kara Feller
Principal Consultant - HR & Talent Management Recruitment
t: +44 (0)20 7422 9035

Other articles in this series:

  • "Delivering a successful Graduate Programme." Click here to hear from Jessica Jones, Director of Human Resources at Jessica Jones Consulting.
  • "Don't abandon Early Careers - evolve and adapt!" Click here to hear from Samantha Ridgewell, Managing Director at Empower Development.