We spoke to Azvir Rampursad from UCT’s Graduate School of Business to get his insights into what it takes to run an effective graduate programme.
Azvir Rampursad is responsible for Corporate Partnerships, Next Generation Talent Strategy & Leadership Development at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (GSB).
GSB is the top business school in Africa, and their programmes have been ranked in the top 100 globally by the Financial Times.
In his role as Corporate Partnerships & Careers Manager, Azvir oversees the formation of strategic partnerships with South African corporates and the successful transition of talent from the academic environment to the workplace.
You work with a number of organisations. What sorts of returns are organisations looking for from their graduate programmes?
In my experience, corporates expect their graduates to become manager-ready talent in a very short timeframe. The expectations from industry are very real; graduates are often employed into actual roles from day one and need to deliver against hard targets. What is referred to as a graduate programme can actually be considered a leadership development programme in many cases.
From the perspective of MBA graduates and postgraduates, they come with pre-existing work experience and high salary expectations. Thus, they have even higher expectations from companies to deliver, be accountable and add value from day one.
GSB equips graduates with Learning Agility insight and education. How does Learning Agility better prepare graduates for the world of work?
Learning Agility creates a new way of thinking that prepares talent for the next era of work. By including Agility measurements, workshops and development into our learning experiences, it allows students to understand the construct and its dimensions. The dimension of Self-awareness is especially important, as it is the first step for students to learn more about themselves. This is empowering for them and gives them the tools to become more effective by driving their own development.
We find that introducing students to Learning Agility prepares them for the complexities they’ll experience in the future. It trains them to think more broadly from a systems perspective, while focusing on the full-value chain and business sustainability over time.
How does the value of a graduate programme differ for a large versus a medium business? Should smaller businesses think of running graduate programmes?
The graduate youth unemployment rate is the highest it has ever been. Thus, it is critically important for companies to create space and opportunities for graduates. We encourage businesses of all sizes and scales to make this space, even for 6 or 12 month internships, to facilitate skill transfer and work experience.
I have found that graduate experiences are quite different in smaller vs larger companies. Given that graduates and their talents also differ in terms of their skills, potential and preferences, running these programmes across different companies allows access to diverse opportunities for all graduates.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in graduate recruitment over the last few years?
The biggest change I have seen is the speed at which corporates develop talent and prepare them for management roles. In the past, there was an expectation to become manager-ready in 2 to 3 years; this is increasingly being shortened to 1 to 2 years. The pace at which talent needs to develop, deliver and perform has become exponential. Because the market and environment is changing so rapidly, talent also needs to evolve and develop rapidly to produce results. To account for this, companies have adapted and fast-tracked the learning experiences within their graduate programmes.
There is also a scenario where companies hire many graduates for entry-level roles with high turnover. They account for the fact that many of these graduates will end up leaving in the first 1–2 years. However, the intervening role of technology is increasingly impacting graduate recruitment. Because of digitisation, corporates don’t necessarily make as many graduate placements as they used to. This underscores the importance of small and medium-size companies getting involved to help tackle ever-rising graduate unemployment.
Organisations are often inundated with applications to their programmes. From your experience, what sets apart an effective graduate programme from an ineffective one?
It is critical to get the right talent into the organisation. There are two things that, in my opinion, differentiate an effective programme from an ineffective one:
- The selection mechanisms and tools used by the organisation to measure potential, competencies and leadership capabilities.
- The rigour and design of the graduate programme itself, which influences the experience that young talent gets when they land in the organisation.
The use of online applicant and assessment platforms creates greater accessibility across regions. These tools allow for large-scale talent sourcing, assessment and decision-making, encouraging a larger and more diverse talent pool. Building an assessment-driven success profile is useful to place the right talent.
However, placing a completely homogenous group of graduates is also not desirable, as it does not add value and diversity to help address the challenges in the world of work. There is thus a dilemma between creating a success profile and creating diversity in the workplace, for which there is no clear answer. One solution could be to build multiple success profiles; another could be to assess not only individuals, but also team dynamics and how people complement one another.
How does the GSB define and differentiate itself in the graduate recruitment value chain?
At GSB our programmes cater to graduates and postgraduates at all levels, including young talent (less than 18 months of experience), young professionals (25-35) and professionals (35+). There is a significant focus on equipping students with market-relevant skills and on collaborating with key players in the industry to supply talent for their leadership pipelines.
We work to bridge the gap between the academic environment and the work environment by enriching students’ experiences and skill sets. One way in which we do this is by integrating business cases and real-life projects into the learning experience. We also help to facilitate gig work opportunities and post-MBA programmes to offer students experience in new industries and career paths. These opportunities are a win–win for both the graduate and the organisation.
Where do you see graduate recruitment going in future, in general and for the GSB?
The world of work is changing, and the mindset of graduates has shifted. I find that people want to own their career path and their development, and thus are increasingly attracted to freelancing opportunities where they can work on multiple projects at the same time. They want to be mobile, flexible, entrepreneurial and work across sectors. For these individuals, corporates that were aspirational before have lost some of their sparkle and shine, as they are seen as very traditional work environments.
I’ve also seen a greater shift towards talent wanting to work in sustainable industries and sectors, which changes the value proposition for many companies. As a business, if you don’t change willingly, you will be forced to change.
About Azvir Rampursad:
Azvir is a true people developer, focusing on unleashing human potential, creating opportunity for and building capacity in people and organisations around the world. Azvir applies his passion daily in his role as Corporate Partnerships & Careers Manager and is extremely passionate about building talent and capability through values based leadership.
Aside from occupying the Next Generation Talent portfolio at the UCT GSB, Azvir has a deep passion for leading people and purpose interventions within the talent and organisation design space. Azvir has demonstrated capabilities within the culture and engagement disciplines of HR, developing compelling employee value propositions, talent management strategies and engaging digital employer branding experiences to build organisation attractiveness and capability. Azvir has led graduate recruitment, leadership development and change transformation strategies on a global scale for the technology and multinational manufacturing & consumer goods industries within the Africa and North American regions.
Apart from developing talent, Azvir is highly invested in employability initiatives, driving diversity, agility and inclusion in everything he does. Azvir’s role at the GSB builds on embedded relationships with corporate partners, industry leaders and alumni who play a key role as career ambassadors and mentors. Azvir's approach is founded on empowering talent to unlock their true purpose and potential to generate value and impact in their personal lives and the world.