Could a scholarship help you achieve your people goals?


An employer scholarship could open doors to a wide range of talent
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Offering a scholarship is not just for universities and other educational institutions, it could be a way to fulfil some of your organisation’s HR goals. Karen Kennard explains how an employer scholarship can support increased diversity, social mobility and future talent pipelines.

Student scholarships are big business in the US, but they are less well-known here. However, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated interest from UK organisations and a growing number are looking at creating tailor-made scholarship programmes for the first time.

2020 has been a year like no other and we will no doubt be feeling its impact for years to come. For employers it has created the need to find sustainable, cost-effective and innovative solutions to attract talent as traditional face-to-face engagement is limited.

But it is not just Covid that has changed the landscape. The Black Lives Matters protests have been a catalyst for many organisations to want to show visible support for ethnic minority groups and encourage diversity within the workforce.

Universities already widely use scholarships to widen participation and diversity, but they also allow employers to support students through higher education. Students, already facing large university debts of around £50,000 over a three-year course, now also face an increasingly uncertain job market so financial support is more urgent than ever.

Creating a scholarship programme addresses these issues, while also creating a vehicle for organisations to select, recruit and train the best talent.

Business benefits

By engaging with target recruits, from the outset of their studies, companies build trust and confidence as well as providing an essential financial lifeline. In addition, as part of the scholarship package, companies can also give mentoring support, work experience and industry connections thereby facilitating better employment outcomes on graduation. Your scholar won’t necessarily come and work for you when they graduate, but they may.

Long-term talent strategy

By investing in a scholarship your company is working to create a pool of young people who are able to apply for key roles in companies, like yours, and go on to be future leaders – a long-term strategy for building a talent pool.

There are four key areas in which scholarships can be used to help your HR strategy:

Graduate recruitment/talent development

With many recruitment fairs and insight days cancelled due to coronavirus, companies could be developing an early engagement strategy by creating a scholarship.
If you are looking to attract engineering or technology recruits, by offering a scholarship to students on these specific courses and even from a select list of universities, you will be building a relationship with potential recruits for when they graduate.

For example, Redbrick Research, a company based in the Tunbridge Wells area of East Sussex/Kent wanted to ensure a talent pipeline for future graduate recruitment. By offering scholarships to sixth form students from local schools alongside paid summer placements, they used the scholarship to create a pool of potential recruits who would most likely be returning to Tunbridge Wells on graduation.

But it’s not just about recruiting new talent. As the competition for talent grows post pandemic, employee development and upskilling will play an increasingly important role in securing an engaged and loyal workforce. By offering scholarships to your existing staff as an employee benefit, this can help to develop their existing skills as well as building an adaptable and flexible workforce.

Cultural and ethnic diversity

The global anti-racism protests, following the death of George Floyd, have served as a wake-up call for many. Many businesses are now asking: “How can we show support to minority ethnic groups?”. Employees and customers are also asking businesses how they are working to address systemic racism and combat discrimination?

Offering a scholarship to a young BAME person is a statement that you recognise that business success will come from diverse organisations.

A great example is the Freshfields Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme, which is designed to address the disproportionate under-representation in large commercial law firms and other City institutions of black men from less socially mobile backgrounds. The scheme is aimed at eligible first year law students at participating universities nationwide.

Gender diversity

Scholarships can also address gender inequality, particularly in male-dominated sectors such as engineering and technology. Companies including Google and some of the professional engineering institutes already offer scholarships to women. Under Google’s Women Techmakers Scholarship, €7,000 is available to female students who are studying computer science at any university in Europe who can demonstrate a strong academic background, a passion for increasing the involvement of women in computer science and leadership skills.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR)

According to research from Henley Business School, 84% of job hunters agree that an employer’s care about its impact on society is an important consideration when choosing who to work for.

Younger generations, in particular, want their values reflected by their employer and many will use this as a deciding factor when looking for a job. So, for companies looking to recruit from universities, a CSR strategy that targets students can be doubly effective particularly when dovetailed into the company’s recruitment activities.

Angus Energy, an onshore oil and gas development company based near Bognor Regis, offered a scholarship of up to £10,000 to students from the local area to demonstrate their commitment to investing in the local community in which they operate.

Getting started

Setting up and running a scholarship programme may seem daunting but once in place it is a targeted and flexible HR tool offering significant benefits to both sides. When creating a new scholarship programme, be clear on what you want to achieve by setting clearly defined objectives and targets. This will ensure the best outcomes for the organisation and importantly the sponsored students.

At the Scholarship Hub, we work with companies to support this process, from the initial design and development of the programme, through to promotion, and managing the applications process.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are your objectives in setting up this scholarship? Are you looking to increase diversity in your workforce or attract employees with in-demand skills?
  • Who is your target student and how can you best reach them? What do they study and where? Will it be nationwide or targeted to a specific university or subject? Will it be for school leavers, undergraduates or postgraduates?
  • How can you best reach them? How will the scholarship be promoted?
  • What will the eligibility criteria be and how will you ensure that it is targeted to attract the right applicants?
  • How will you score applications to ensure that all students are given a fair chance?
  • What is your likely uptake?
  • How many people will you need to manage applications? How much time will it take to run?
  • How will students apply? – online/offline/interview?
  • How will the money be disbursed?
  • What ongoing communication will you require from your scholars?

Creating a tailor-made scholarship programme can be extremely versatile. It can be used to make your company stand out from them crowd, attract new talent, encourage diversity in the workforce, support your CSR efforts and create good PR for your company with all stakeholders. If you’re looking for a new direction that is cost effective, flexible and impactful, now could be the time.

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