By Sandra Innes


There has been an increasing trend of companies using exit fees to minimise graduate programme attrition. Under the guise of needing to recoup costs incurred for training provisions should participants leave early, clauses are appearing in contracts with stipulations that leaving within a certain timeframe will incur fees.

People are questioning whether this sort of charge is ethical. Incurring fees gives more flexibility to those who can afford to leave and front the cost, whilst those from lower income backgrounds may be trapped in, at best, jobs they’re not enjoying – and at worse, positions that could seriously damage their mental health.

It could even put those from the latter group off accepting positions in the first place, limiting options available to them. With social mobility at the forefront of many people’s minds, the concerns about this new practice are understandable.

Ultimately, the challenge companies are actually looking to address is high graduate attrition rates – but people leaving is a symptom, not the cause.

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A better response is to understand the reasons people are leaving before they finish their programme (or soon after), and implement solutions to address these challenges accordingly.

Focus groups, surveys and exit interviews are all great ways to understand your cohort’s (past and present) views. Speak regularly to your graduates, and even your target audience members.

Talk to people who are leaving, but also people who have stayed or are still in progress. They’ll also offer valuable insight too, and help you identify potential challenges before they too become issues.

Find out what they’re looking for, what’s good, what could be better, why they stay, and perhaps most importantly why they leave. If you’re concerned about participants being fully honest, a third party can help bring out the reality for you.

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From this research, identify if there are common themes. We find that most challenges are: a lack of support; too high a workload; or the job just isn’t the right fit for that person.

Once you know the problem, you can fix it. For example, people realising it’s not the job for them? Provide more detail in the consideration stage – case studies, day in the life content and match me tools help candidates truly understand what the programme offers.

Assessment process reviews may highlight weaknesses in identifying suitable candidates. More robust programme reviews and one-to-ones can help offer better support.

By fixing the true problem, companies can provide a better candidate and employee experience, reduce risk of reputational damage and reap the rewards of new, trained and engaged talent ready to add value to their sector or organisation.

Sandra Innes is client relationship director with TMP UK