Set up in the late 1980s by Shell, the original Step programme existed to provide paid summer placements for STEM students in smaller businesses. Originally supported by government and granted both business funding and skills-based funding, a network of partners (including universities and business links) administered the programme. Students applied to be a part of it and businesses submitted their projects. The training allowance was paid by a combination of funding and corporate sponsorship and the support mechanism and marketing was supported by Shell. Although we moved away from funding in the new millennium, the team at Step had established a market for paid internships. Businesses could see the value that graduates brought to both short term projects and longer-term succession planning.
In 2019, the narrative around unpaid internships is going strong. There are calls for legislation to end the practice of unpaid internships and the Sutton Trust has published their findings of the inequalities perpetuated by unpaid internships. Since the 1980s Step has advocated for paid internships, well before these more recent calls. In doing so we have championed the cause of social mobility, working with students who do not have the cultural capital to secure unpaid internships through people they happen to know. By working with smaller businesses, we think beyond the obvious traditional routes where larger corporations, target the top universities, to access the top students for their graduate schemes.
Step provides equality of opportunity to all students who have the desire to secure meaningful paid work experience in the form of internships, placements and permanent graduate jobs.
We work with smaller, lesser known businesses who cannot compete with the resources of larger graduate schemes. The message we take out on campus is “think big choose small” underlining the fact that smaller businesses provide 60% of private sector employment in the UK and that less than 10% of graduates ( Calculated from 2018 HESA graduate figures and number of positions offered by ISE members) will actually be accepted on to the corporate graduate schemes.
In addition to quality, project-based, outcome focused internships and placements with smaller businesses, Step manages student and graduate-focused recruitment programmes for brands who do not have dedicated graduate recruitment teams. An example of this would be Puma UK who in the UK employ around 250 people. Whilst their brand is incredibly well known, they do not have the internal structure to manage their sandwich placement programme themselves. Since 2012 Step has managed the recruitment for their six different sandwich placements which each year generates around 800 applications.
The relationships we maintain with universities and their students facilitates access to a diverse range of skills in an inclusive manner. We select the universities we work with based on their location, their openness to consider less traditional routes and their record with social mobility.
Our recruitment processes do not focus on A-Level grades (in fact this information is not captured by our CRM system in a searchable way), nor do we focus on universities attended. We also do not work from CVs as research backs up our own findings that CVs can give a misleading impression in many cases. We know that many private schools and Russell Group Universities have significant investment in CV and general employability coaching, often meaning that many under-represented groups, or those who do not have access to traditional routes, are at a disadvantage.
Our portal plays a key part in our application process as it offers the same process for all. Unlike many other similar portals, we do not simply upload the CV to the system. Nor does the database filter applications using algorithms that search for keywords: each application is personally handled by our team. The skills section of the profile invites candidates to select from a wide range of soft skills and technical skills, providing a basis for a discussion with our account managers. The key part of the profile is the ‘personal statement’ section; here, candidates prepare a summary to tell their story: a bit about them, their work and education, and why they are interested in and suitable for the specific role they have applied for.
In 2017 Step was approached by the House of Commons Diversity and Inclusion team. We have now successfully delivered two intakes to their BAME focused internship programme as well as the 8th cohort of the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Programme. We have developed strategies which focus on attracting BAME candidates as well as identifying applicants who feel that they may not have access to the traditional routes into parliament. For the 2018 Speaker’s programme, a pool of almost 500 candidates was generated. 100% of the final cohort came from a state school background and 50% were the first generation to attend university. 70% of the final cohort were of BAME origin.
The combination of Step’s heritage and reputation in the graduate recruitment market coupled with an ethos which is committed to improving the choices for all graduates means that we are uniquely placed to manage diversity-focused programmes in a competitive graduate employment market.