Growing NZ’s talent: How Assurity builds careers for the future

What’s the first thing a new business with growth aspirations needs? The answer is 'great people'.

Aron Chantelau

Aron Chantelau GM, People & Capability

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Growing NZ’s talent: How Assurity builds careers for the future

Date: 22 February 2021

What’s the first thing a new business with growth aspirations needs? The answer is 'great people' and that’s why one of the first actions Assurity Consulting took after we got off the ground was the establishment of a Graduate Programme. That was 14 years ago and, to our pride and delight, some of the first intake are still with us today.

It’s testament to the vision of our founders, Garth Hamilton and Darren McTigue, who at the very beginning noted that it’s the secret sauce which made other organisations successful, here and abroad.

Graduates are an ideal addition to the workforce because they don’t come with preconceived ideas – and they bring fresh thinking to the table.

There are many great stories from Assurity’s Graduate Programme, not the least of which is Norbert Lee, who joined the company fresh out of the University of Canterbury way back in 2007. Today, still with Assurity as a Senior Test Engineer.

But one of the quirks which makes me smile to this day was the requirement for all prospects to send in a handwritten, covering letter. This was just a small test to see who was serious about joining Assurity. It was a great differentiator at the time and we decided we’d better get a more digital approach in place about six years ago! We do still have some of the original handwritten cover letters from the successful applications still with us today.

Serious business

There’s little reason why serious business can’t be successfully executed while still taking a light-hearted, human approach. For Assurity, the graduate intake is serious business, because a good portion of our future rests on attracting and retaining top talent.

This is no mean feat, as all the ‘big’ (and a decent cohort of smaller) companies vie for the same graduate pool. And, of course, skills gaps have long been recognised as a challenge for technology businesses and it’s no less for us. We have to show that we’re an attractive place to work and the best way to do that is being relatable from the start.

In the initial days, there was no such assurance of permanent employment on the completion of our programme, simply because, as a young company, we just didn’t have the resources to do so. However, by delivering coaching, training and a combination of practical and theoretical learning which takes graduates on the journey towards being a professional consultant, Assurity has consistently achieved great results.

From training of two to three weeks in the early years and an offer only at the end of the training (definitely a pretty nervous time!) to today where graduates can expect up to five weeks training… We now ensure graduates are assured of employment from the minute they join.

What graduates get from start is amazing support setting them up for success (and over the years, we’ve had more than 180 people through the Programme).

As early practitioners of the Agile and DevOps approaches, we’ve incrementally improved how we run the Programme, relying heavily on graduate feedback, as well as impartially evaluating how well we’re delivering what’s required.

There’s plenty more to it, including the provision of a structured path to employment.

Innovation open to all

Among the early innovations we’ve brought to the Graduate Programme is its accessibility to any graduate, including those from any discipline (for example Arts, Science, Law) and from a variety of tertiary institutes, not just universities.

At the outset, we recognised that sticking to tech grads alone provides a limited pool of thinking. That’s why we hire people with degrees in any subject.

Personality, a passion for quality and professionalism… these are far more important attributes than the degree you read. You also know that someone who has completed university or polytechnic has proven a level of self-discipline as this is often the first time an individual has the opportunity to demonstrate this.

Another unique aspect of our Graduate Programme is FreshStart. We all know people who find themselves at a dead end, or seemingly stuck in a career which no longer works for them, and that’s where FreshStart provides an excellent opportunity for a foot up.

This came from a realisation and idea from one of our employees around six years back that we had a number of people on board who had come from completely different fields, but were high-performing members of the team.

Why limit our Programme to grads, the thinking went – and now we have people who were, among other things, once plasterers, bankers, medical lab technicians or health and safety officers.

It’s a really diverse group which has added diversity of thinking to the Assurity team – we’ve seen some truly innovative solutions to client problems as a result of casting the talent net beyond the obvious.

As a consultancy operating in a specialist niche of the technology industry, the most recent innovation in the Graduate Programme was the introduction of a pathway to test engineering.

Introduced in 2018, this new stream takes on people with competence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, moving them towards competence and careers in this field.

Market recognition

Graduate recruitment is a competitive field, with multiple companies vying for the best talent coming out of New Zealand’s tertiary institutions. Aside from the recognised ‘Big 4’ consulting titans, there are also globally-recognised brands, all of which seek to attract the best.

This is why Assurity is proud of the recognition it has received in the market, including being voted as one of the top three rated employers by graduates in a 2019 Graduate Survey run by the NZ Association of Graduate Employers.

In other words, we’ve been ranked by graduates themselves and we constantly evaluate the performance of our programmes with those within them. It’s essential to know that what we offer is compelling and that it helps individuals realise their full potential with a rewarding career.

That’s clear in the Net Promotor Score of 83, assessed by those in the Graduate Programme. One participant noted in their feedback: “I see the company as a great place to kickstart a career in tech and grow professionally and personally.” Another added, “Assurity makes the transition into a new career as simple and painless as possible”.

It’s about people

For us at Assurity, diversity means more than striving for numbers. It extends to the inclusion of a diversity of ideas – ideas which prove essential in solving the complex problems and challenges of a digital present and future.

Through the Graduate Programme and a company ethos of recognising talent from multiple perspectives, we’re building a high-performance culture which is, at the same time, expressly human. After all, digital business might be built with software and computers, but it is built for people.

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