Gannett created its innovative Talent Development Program in 2007 to recruit, hire, and train some of the top graduating university seniors in the United States, guiding them through to pre-assigned jobs in an effort to bring a more digital focus to the company.
When Virgil Smith took on the role of vice president of talent management (now called talent, acquisition, and diversity), he was told by his then-CEO that the company needed to find talent that could support Gannett’s transformation to a more digital-centric company. He set out to do just that, creating the company’s Talent Development Program.
Smith: We evaluated our editorial intern programme, and what we saw … was that the retention rate was about 25%. We were training young, talented journalists and they were leaving us. So we thought, ‘How do we get them to stay?’ The best way to get them to stay is to hire them.
Ideas: And how did that realisation fit into the larger picture of Gannett?
Smith: We weren’t going to convince our newspapers and TV stations to add staffing, so we did an analysis of our general employee turnover. What we determined was that during a 90-day period, we’re going to have X amount of turnover, so every unit is going to have turnover positions within each 90-day period. We determined that if we bring these folks in, we’re going to train them so they’ll be the best people we can find and our units will be willing to hire them.
Ideas: How do you identify candidates?
Smith: We visit schools and have partnerships with schools that have produced good talent. We also have an application for them to apply directly to us with 25 to 30 pre-screening questions. We require a minimum grade point average of 3.2, but the average grade point average of our students has been in the 3.5 to 3.6 range. We generally take about 30 graduates into the programme each year out of the 400 to 1,000 who apply.
Ideas: What happens once they are in the programme?
Smith: The graduates spend 10 weeks with us, paid for at the corporate level. Their orientation includes eight weeks of Webinars on different subjects that give them a deep dive into our news gathering, digital analytics, mobile — all the strategic areas we’re focused on. Then we look for positions left open by turnover to slot them.
Ideas: Are their lessons learned you can share?
Smith: Certainly there have been challenges, and we have learned much in the past five years. We’ve learned that, for kids coming straight out of school, sometimes the workplace hasn’t quite caught up to where the universities are, so we have to make an adjustment. As an organisation, we have to be prepared and have the right mindset to grow this talent and have that culture for them.
Another challenge has been the generational challenge in terms of people who have been around for a while working with these young people bringing in these digital skills. That’s been a cultural challenge we’ve had to address, and we do it through mentoring. Every participant has a mentor. We also require the participant to produce a video in the first six weeks of placement that talks about the market, location, and experience. That forces them to get into the workplace, build that rapport with the current employees, and really becoming a member of the team. Other employees help with the video, and there is a cash prize for the winners.
We continue to tweak the programme every year. This year, our prior graduates are taking responsibility for the 10-week training programme — the orientation, the speakers, they’ve created their own newsletter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. In fact, one of our graduates is taking over as the immediate contact for the programme here at headquarters.
Ideas: What were your goals with the talent camp and how have those goals been met?
Smith: The goal was bringing in talent to help us with strategic talent. I’d say it’s worked out very well. We’ve had 132 graduates come through the programme. In all, 40% of those retained have been promoted from their original job within Gannett — sometimes multiple times— and the retention rate is 45%, which we plan to improve. The ones who are with us are doing great. They are multi-media journalists, account executives, online producers, mobile developers, and more throughout our outlets.