Graduate support – recruiting graduates and all this involves from a business leader's perspective by Vicki Farbon MRCVS - Veterinary Practice
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Graduate support – recruiting graduates and all this involves from a business leader’s perspective by Vicki Farbon MRCVS

SPVS GP mastery course is a great programme to inspire young vets, promote working in first opinion practice and help deal with many of the everyday stressors with amazing networking opportunities and shared learning

When I applied for my first job in mixed practice over 20 years ago, there were at least 10 other new graduates applying. Competition was tough, and I was lucky to get the job of my dreams. Reality is very different now. As an owner of an independent practice, I am astounded at the lack of independent applicants from new graduates. Where are they all?

Vet examining dog

There are several large factors at play in this –

  1. Brexit –There is more red tape involved in employing overseas graduates, and fewer are applying since Brexit. However, it is worth researching the process as there is a demand for sponsors of overseas vets. The steps involved as a practice are to apply for a sponsorship licence through UK Visas and immigration services (UKVI), set up an account with them, and then apply for the certificate of sponsorship for the individual vet.  To encourage applicants to think about incentives such as sponsoring payment of the sponsorship or the individual’s visa or healthcare surcharge. Including a practice car or accommodation can also be a great incentive.
  2. Corporatisation – many corporates attend career fayres at the universities and not just in the final year. They are signing up vet students much earlier than this to have a throughput of vets. Independent vets also need to get their names out there and try and attend these fayres if possible else they will lose out. This requires planning and maybe even committing to taking on vets two years in advance. Alongside this, think about a personalised graduate plan. Have a clear induction and support plan for the first year with clear expectations. If you don’t have your own, some companies can help the vet graduate support plan is a great place to start. Our practice has also introduced a grading system with associated medical, surgical and interactions noted for each grade alongside a pay scale so it is very clear for both parties what is expected of them and at what stage.
  3. Recruitment companies. Over the last few years, it has become commonplace for vets to use recruitment companies rather than applying independently. If you use one, ensure you choose one that will take time to learn about your practice with its associated culture and values so that, hopefully, if you take someone via this avenue, they are the right fit for your practice. For many vets, location will be a large factor in applying to a particular practice, so we need to encourage them to visit/research all the vets in the location they are looking for and then send their CVs and cover letters. Mention this if they come to you on their EMS placement, for example. Even if you don’t have a vacancy right now, you may do it in the future.  To encourage independent applications, you may want to think about incentives such as offering money if applied directly rather than using a recruitment company. Relocation incentives can also work well.
  4. A change in where vets are looking for jobs based on technology. Again, years ago the vet record was the place to look for jobs. Now, people rely more on technology using Facebook groups, Linked In or forums for advertising. It’s always worth talking to the younger vets to see where they would look and if there is an opportunity to advertise there. Adverts are not just a factual list anymore. Videos/photographs of not just everyday tasks but maybe social events are increasingly popular. Video testimonials from staff can be useful in talking about aspects of the role, such as flexibility, support and extracurricular activities. Try to create a name for yourself by creating branding for your firm. Get your values and culture known and try to stand out so it is more likely the talent will approach you.

So… once we have navigated the above points and have our perfect new graduate suiting our culture and values, what next and how do we nurture them?

Ten tips for the first few weeks and months:

  1. Make contact with your new starter a few weeks before they start. Let them know logistical information like where to park, whether to bring a packed lunch or where the nearest shop is. Also, who should they report to on their first day? Ensure they have uniform details, let them know who their mentor will be and consider a welcome pack. This could have in it, for example, gloves,a snood and thermal cup for large animal vets or a notebook, water bottle and BSAVA guide to procedures for small animal vets. A keyring can be useful, too, if there are a few keys to be issued.
  2. First impressions are everything. Ensure you are familiar with your new graduate name and history. Have a good, well-thought-out induction and regularly reflect on this. Checklists, such as fire safety, x-ray badges, and clinical protocols, are useful at induction for both parties to tick off. Ask your current staff what they found useful when they started, and include this. The induction should be extensive enough, so the new graduate feels prepared and confident. At the end of the first week, ensure a one-to-one is booked for reflection on good and bad things and how things might be changed for next time. Remember that everyone is different. People learn and respond differently, so be adaptable in teaching and mentoring. Is there anything else that you can provide that would help them with their learning?
  3. A no-blame culture is paramount. You can’t create this overnight, but you can create this with time. Have an open door policy, and consider M and M meetings regularly where the whole team can be involved and anyone can present. Talk about your mistakes in the past, too, and always support your vets in front of clients and other staff.
  4.  Try to understand the personality profiles of your vets, which will open the door to better, more effective communication. Some will need lots of detail and time to process, some will want the details yesterday and make quick decisions, and others will be very quiet but just need the right forum to speak out. Take the time to think about this before having conversations, and you will get the best out of your team. This also may help match a suitable mentor with your new vet.
  5. Ensure expectations are managed both ways. Your new graduate must know what is expected of them in the coming months. This can be broken down into surgery, medicine and interactions. For example, a list of competencies expected to be learnt over the first 6 months may include a cat spay, dog castrate and small bitch spay or to reduce the consult time from 30 to 15 minutes. Giving SMART targets can help and is a starting point to chat around at reviews. If possible, a pay scale grading system can also effectively match these competencies.
  6. Remember, times change. Client expectations are higher, work-life balance is no longer a taboo subject and something vets are willing to stand up for. Gone are days of working all hours for a salary. Vets want to get paid for the hours they work. We need to welcome this thinking and ensure we are delivering on this. It’s all about the scales balancing and vets getting out what they put in. Generally, paid time is better received than time in lieu, so if possible, try to offer this for any extra work.
  7. Ensure your staff feel safe. Again, over time, people have come to feel less safe generally, so ensure all alarms and safety measures are effective. Consider personal alarms or things like the Hollie guard app. CCTV has become more popular in consult rooms, too, not only to help with safety but also to provide evidence in any disputes with clients.
  8. Non-clinical learning is equally important as clinical learning. Alongside the GDP, consider a non-clinical new graduate course, maybe one with a cohort, so your new vet can share their experiences with others and learn from them. One such example is the SPVS GP mastery course. This is new this year and will run yearly with a cohort of up to 15 young vets. It involves in-person and remote non-clinical CPD over 9 months. It’s a great programme to inspire young vets, promote working in first opinion practice and help deal with many of the everyday stressors with amazing networking opportunities and shared learning.
  9. Lead by example. We all know it’s unhealthy to work through lunch hours and not break. We should not encourage or expect our staff to do this. As a leader, why not sit and have lunch in the staff room or take your dog for a walk with one of the other staff members? Vets will only want to follow in our footsteps if they like what they see, so make sure they do!
  10. Make sure you give positive feedback as well as negative. It’s all too easy to tell people something they are doing wrong and forget to say anything when they are doing a really good job. Praise will not go unnoticed, and you can make someone’s day.

In conclusion this article applies to not only new graduates but how to nurture all staff that come to your practice. Staff need to be aligned with your culture and values. They need to feel safe, have clear expectations, a no-blame culture and ideally great mentoring and communication channels. Get all this right, and you are on to a winner! Good luck!

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