Boosting employability

Company secretarial work experience programmes are helping to build the pipeline

In early 2013, following our annual InterContinental Hotels Group PLC (IHG) Corporate Legal and Secretariat (CLS) strategy meeting, the Company Secretarial team agreed that we should develop a work experience scheme that offers those looking to embark on a career in the company secretarial profession an opportunity to see what life is really like working as a trainee company secretary in a FTSE 100 company. This is something very hard to come by in our field but is invaluable to ensure students enter the jobs market with a real understanding of what the job involves, are prepared for its challenges and rewards, and understand that the type of organisation they work for can dramatically alter the type of work they will do.

IHG Academy programme

IHG had a ready-made programme in place that we could use – the IHG Academy. It is one of IHG’s three core corporate responsibility initiatives and was already running in our hotels and other corporate departments around the world.

Unlike most other work experience programmes, by setting up an IHG Academy, we agree to partner with local education providers to offer a relevant course and create sustainable relationships. The programme helps participants become more employable and helps us build our employer brand and identify a network of potential talent.

Getting going with the CLS IHG Academy

We met with our selected educational institution and agreed the vision, objectives and targets of the programme before arranging a presentation at the university to promote the programme to interested students. We have found the partner aspect of the IHG Academy really useful as it provides us with a steady supply of interested candidates for the programme. Since setting up the IHG Academy, and welcoming our first student in July 2013 we have had 11 students attend placements and we continue to have a steady pipeline of students waiting to join us over the coming months.

Benefits to the student

'The programme helps make participants more employable and helps build our brand'

Before the placement

The feedback we continue to hear is that students benefit greatly from the programme as, alongside a work experience placement, we also run a pre-selection application and interview process, which is great for developing their interview skills. Following a successful interview, students then receive a tailored welcome pack containing the necessary information they will need to make a start on day one.

Joining the team

Students spend three to four weeks with us and take part in team events and lunches, team meetings, board and committee meetings, attend internal company presentations and are fully integrated into our work. The CLS team (company secretaries, lawyers and administrators) can see the benefits of the IHG Academy and give up their time to meet individually with every student on placement to openly discuss their career to date, their role at IHG and answer questions the students may have.

Why a four-week placement?

Having a fixed maximum four-week placement is great for students as placements often take place during term time. Although the educational establishment we partner with offers a temporary alternative evening study option to participating students, this can still be disruptive to their studies and would be unsuitable over a longer period of time.

What do students get involved in?

During a student’s time in the CLS team we find out what they hope to get out of the placement and try to tailor their experience accordingly. For all students we offer much sought after one-to-one Blueprint training, a key skill for any aspiring FTSE listed company secretary and wherever possible enable students to make all Blueprint updates required during their time with us. We hope by the end of the placement all students will feel fully integrated into the team, understand what the team does and most importantly what it would be like to work as a trainee company secretarial assistant in a FTSE 100 company.

What support are students offered?

All students are allocated a manager/mentor from the company secretarial team but in addition to that every member of the CLS team gives their time freely to support each student’s development.

At the end of their placements we offer tips and advice from a senior member of the company secretarial team on CV writing, interviews and possible future company secretarial careers. We discuss with students their specific career plans and any roles they may be interested in pursuing.

We also fully appreciate that by the end of the placement some students will have revised their thoughts on whether the company secretariat profession offers them what they were looking for in a job. Having said that, we have never had a student leave the programme early and have always had positive feedback from the students on how welcoming everyone was, how insightful the experience turned out to be and how it has helped them focus on their next steps.

Post-student benefits

We always ask students to keep in touch with the team and offer post-programme advice and guidance on roles they may wish to apply for. It is always great to hear their success stories and see how IHG made a difference to their future career prospects.

Having completed the programme, a number of students at the end of their course have gone on to secure full-time employment in the company secretarial field, which we hope was at least in part due to their experiences with us. Upon ‘graduating’ from the IHG Academy all students receive a certificate confirming their placement with us which they can use as evidence to validate their CV.

Benefits to IHG and future employers

Developing key skills, providing a talent pipeline and supporting the community

Together with being a fantastic opportunity for students, the programme is a chance for the CLS team at IHG to inspire and develop the next generation of company secretaries, as well as support the local community. This also gives more junior members of the team the opportunity to experience what it would be like to be a manager. We often hear that there is a lack of high quality company secretarial candidates in the job market for entry level roles and by offering opportunities such as the IHG Academy, good students gain experience which will set them apart.

Assisting the team

A student on placement is a real help to the team as we get them fully involved in an array of different projects, as well as the ‘day job’. This enables a student to get first-hand experience of a project, something some company secretarial trainees are not even exposed to when in their first role.

Enhancing the reputation of IHG

In partnering with an external education provider we benefit from getting the IHG name out to students who may apply for a role with us in the future.

We have found the IHG Academy programme a rewarding experience for both the students and the CLS team and I would encourage any organisation thinking about introducing a work experience scheme to do so as the rewards outweigh the time commitment required to run a successful programme.

Erika Percival is Assistant Company Secretary, Intercontinental Hotels Group

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