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Employers are ramping up their alumni programs in a bid to maintain good relationships and maximise prospects for re-hiring staff that might lose their jobs during the downturn.

However, good alumni programs can achieve a lot more than just aiding “boomerang hires”, according to Trevor Vas, from Human Capital Management Services. He says a well-run program can also help business development, knowledge sharing and employee referrals, and generate social goodwill.

Vas says it’s crucial for employers to set clear objectives and understand the program has to deliver tangible benefits for former staff as well as the company.

“An alumni program is not vastly different to a product or service that a company would look to sell to a consumer. Unless it has benefits that address real needs then people won’t be interested.

“Organisations that assume they have a captive audience with whom they can do as they please, will inevitably fail.”

He says that to attract former staff to join the alumni program – and to engage them – employers can offer a range of tangible and intangible membership benefits, including:

  • Networking and events. These can be online or social events which, besides networking opportunities, offer genuine business or professional information. Vas says professional and technical staff will value such events, while events with a greater social and fun orientation can be organised for lower-skilled occupations.
  • Company news. Long-term employees will appreciate news updates, particularly if they are about people with whom they have worked for many years. This type of information can easily be delivered in company newsletters, or specialised alumni emailings.
  • Business and product knowledge. Professionals with specialist skill sets will see value in keeping up to date with industry and business trends, company performance and new products, says Vas.
  • Products, services and discounts. This is an area where companies can be innovative and can offer real tangible value for their alumni, says Vas. This may take the form of providing discounts or product trials with the offerings of the company and/or partners.
  • Referral rewards. Vas says a motivated alumni network can be an important part of an employer’s recruitment referral program, offering both financial reward for alumni members, and quality referrals for a company’s recruitment team.

Vas says technology has made it much easier and cheaper to establish, build and manage alumni programs over the past few years.

Specialised alumni websites can keep former staff involved, together with email newsletters and online seminars. HR intranets and careers sites can keep alumni informed of vacancies in the organisation, both for themselves, and so they can provide referrals of potential recruits, he says.

Alumni involvement will depend on separation

Vas says that while alumni programs can offer employers a chance to re-employ good staff they’ve had to shed in a downturn, the re-engagement success rate will always depend on how redundancies are managed.

Alumni programs obviously work best with employees who have left voluntarily, he says. But if forced redundancies are well managed, with good communication, outplacement services and maximum effort to re-deploy, affected staff often retain a level of commitment to the company. With good communication and genuine outplacement, they often accept that they are the victims of events beyond their employer’s control.

“If on the other hand, organisations haven’t been able to afford to offer those services and manage redundancies poorly, obviously an alumni program isn’t going to work”, Vas says.

Alumni program generates re-hires, referrals and new business for PwC

PricewaterhouseCoopers has one of Australia’s longest-established alumni programs and it has delivered a wide range of benefits for the firm, says PwC national human capital and talent director, Sharon Bell.

PwC’s local alumni program (which is part of the firm’s global program) has more than 8000 members and has resulted in a high number of re-hires, candidate referrals and new business referrals for the group, Bell told HR Daily.

She says that because PwC accountants work closely with clients, it is not uncommon for them to leave and work directly for clients during their career, but many later return to the firm.

Bell says one of the greatest tangible benefits for the firm from the alumni program is that it keeps these former employees engaged with PwC, and results in a flow of referred work from the former employees, both from existing and new clients.

The program also keeps former employees in touch with career openings in PwC Australia and throughout the world and – as well as a large number of re-hires – results in quality candidate referrals, Bell says.

She says PwC has deliberately declined to extend its candidate referral bonus to alumni members, because many of them work for existing clients and to pay them a referral fee would raise conflict of interest issues.

PwC keeps in touch with alumni members through regular email newsletters covering professional development and news from the firm – such as thought leadership papers and new product offerings – and alumni are also invited to PwC professional and industry functions and product launches, annual reunions and more regular informal social functions, Bell says.

The company is also in the process of revamping its alumni website to make it more interactive and more conducive to networking, she says.

“The alumni program allows them to stay in touch and maintain and build their networks and get access to advice from a trusted source.”


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