Earlier this year, the Specsavers Graduate Program shattered two records: hosting its largest Graduate Induction event and having the highest number of graduates participating in the program at any one time. ProFile speaks to Adam Buxton, Head of Graduate Recruitment and Development for Specsavers Australia & New Zealand, about the driving factors that have led to this surge of interest, as well as how the graduate program has evolved over the years.
You currently have more graduates on the Specsavers Graduate Program than ever before. Why do you think this is?
Yes, that’s right. We currently have more than 250 graduates (first and second years) participating in the program across Australia and New Zealand, which is the largest number that we’ve ever had at one time.
There are two main reasons why the number of people on the program has grown so much in the past 18 months. Firstly, the sustained success and subsequent growth of our business means that there continues to be an elevated level of demand from our stores for graduate optometrists – so much so that despite hiring more graduates in the past year than ever before, the demand from our stores was such that we could have recruited another 70 more graduates if they had been available.
Secondly, Specsavers’ mission to transform eye health has added a new dimension to our employee value proposition that I think really appeals to graduates. A critical component of this strategy has been to enhance how we track and analyse patient outcomes, and this has enabled us to more clearly articulate the collective impact that our optometrists and dispensers are having on the eye health of Australians and New Zealanders, whilst also providing each optometrist at Specsavers with regular data on their own clinical practice.
In addition to this work supporting the ongoing professional development of our workforce, I think it’s really exciting that our focus on patient outcomes allows early-career optometrists to draw a clear line from the work they do in the test room through to the impact they have towards reducing incidences of avoidable blindness.
Pleasingly, this has resulted in an increased level of interest, with more students than ever before choosing to commence their career with Specsavers.
What are the strengths of the Specsavers Graduate Program?
At the risk of sounding like a cliché, our program would be nothing if not for the passion that people within our business have for developing early-career optometrists.
Everyone involved in the delivery of the program – from store directors and their teams through to the multiple teams at our Support Office – is committed to ensuring that the program provides our early-career optometrists with the support and skills they need to flourish.
This commitment is more than just words on a page. Our business takes real action and makes significant investments to make this commitment become a reality. To my mind, that is the key strength of the program.
Perhaps the best evidence of this is the investment our business makes in having a dedicated Graduate Recruitment and Development team whose sole focus is to enable and empower our stores and their early-career optometrists to grow and develop.
How has the graduate program changed over the years?
Although the graduate program structure and the fundamental principles that underpin its success have remained relatively stable over the years, the program’s content and support mechanisms are regularly reviewed to ensure that they continue to be market-leading and responsive to the needs of a dynamic business such as Specsavers.
As a key enabler of business success, the Specsavers Graduate Program must regularly adapt to ensure that it aligns with the strategic direction of the business whilst also remaining relevant and a value-add to our graduates and store partners. One of the ways that we ensure this happens is by rigorously seeking feedback from graduates and their mentors on the efficacy of almost everything that we do. This feedback often affirms that the program is meeting the needs of its participants, but just as often it leads to the creation of new content and / or the adjustment of existing material.
An example of this is a change that was recently made to the format of the Year Two Project that graduates complete in their second year of the program. Feedback from graduates over the last 18 months highlighted that they found completing the project beneficial, but some graduates reported the impact of their project was hindered because of their lack of knowledge on how to effectively plan and implement their project. For this reason, some graduates were choosing topics that were easy to implement, but not necessarily aligned to their own development needs and interests.
In response to this feedback, we’ve recently changed the criteria for choosing a Year Two Project topic so that it provides greater scope for graduates to choose what works best for their own development, and we’ve also incorporated clearer direction and support for the graduates on how to plan, implement, and report the findings of their project. Although it’s a little too soon for us to definitively say that this has improved the Year Two Project, anecdotal feedback from the graduates, along with a perceived increase in engagement, suggests that the changes we’ve made have been a success.
How has the program evolved to accommodate increasing numbers?
Our recent growth hasn’t really necessitated a significant change to how we deliver the program. Interestingly, what we’ve seen in recent times is that the program’s growth is actually helping it to become more effective and self-sustaining. With more and more of our store partners having participated in the graduate program – as a graduate themselves, as a graduate mentor, or both of these roles – the overall mentoring capability across our network has also grown significantly, helping us to realise positive retention and to enhance employee engagement.
The Graduate Recruitment and Development team are also fully aware that the quality of our graduate program is only as good as the people who are responsible for running it and so we’re consistently looking for ways that we can improve what we do, and also to improve ourselves – personally and professionally.
In recent times, we’ve made some changes that I think go hand in hand with growth around the way that we work and the structure of our team. These changes have effectively seen each member of the team taking on more of a specialised role and has allowed us to deepen our capability, which in turn delivers even greater support for graduates and stores.
One of the standards that is a non-negotiable for our team is to work hard, but also to have fun while we’re doing it. This helps to facilitate a culture of trust, commitment, and care that we are immensely proud of, but it also gives me confidence that we can continue to grow and do the best for our stores, partners and graduates.
What support networks are available to Specsavers graduates?
The most critical support for graduates is their primary mentor who is generally the optometry director of the store they work in. The primary mentor takes accountability for providing day-to-day mentoring support over the two years of the program, and for ensuring that the graduate continues to develop and grow as they transition from recent university-qualified optometrist to high-performing, confident eye care professional.
Aside from the support of their primary mentor, there are several other supports available for graduates. In the past few years, we’ve actively encouraged retail partners to attend our mentor training and to take a more active role in the mentoring of their graduate – particularly in relation to pastoral care and other, non-clinical areas that graduates consistently seek support with.
Due to the fact that we are recruiting more optometry graduates than any other organisation – and we actively support graduates to join the program together in pairs or trios if they are moving to a regional location – there are literally hundreds of graduates working alongside each other at the beginning of their careers and this creates a unique network of support for graduates.
On top of all this, there are three other teams from within the Specsavers Support Office who provide support to graduates.
The Retail Support team – and in particular the regional relationship managers – work to support store directors with the operation of their business and so are regularly in-store to meet with the partners, but also to provide support for other team members when needed.
Our colleagues in the Optometry Department are also a reliable source of support, albeit indirectly. This department includes multiple optometrists who either work at our Support Office in Port Melbourne or in-store as clinical support consultants. Their work largely focusses on increasing the overall clinical efficiency of stores and supporting optometrists to provide enhanced patient care, and the wealth of knowledge and experience that this team brings is a fantastic resource that graduates regularly benefit from.
Last, but certainly not least, the Graduate Recruitment and Development team remains a constant source of support for our graduates. From the point that a student meets one of our recruiters on campus, through to their completion of the program, our team is genuinely interested in how graduates are progressing, and we are regularly involved in a range of ways to help our graduates and store partners maximise their potential.