Student onboarding, why the journey matters

/ 5 July 2018

In the business world, there is growing recognition that the implementation of a formalised and structured onboarding process is a must-have. It not only provides the immediate benefit of helping the new-hire become as productive as possible, in the shortest amount of time, but it also supports the longer-term benefits of improved productivity, engagement, and retention.

Employee onboarding is the process by which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, resources, skills and behaviours to enable them to become fully functioning and highly engaged members of their teams, departments as well as the organisation.

“I truly believe that onboarding is an art. Each new employee brings with them a potential to achieve and succeed. To lose the energy of a new hire through poor onboarding is an opportunity lost.” Sarah Wetzel, Director of Human Resources at engage:BDR

Employee onboarding, when done well, can positively impact a significant number of areas, including but not limited to:

 Improving retention

  • Research indicates that successful onboarding leads to reduced turnover and increased retention (source)
  • Employees are 60% more likely to remain with the organisation for more than three years, when a formalised onboarding programme is in place (source)
  • 15% of employees decided to leave their current position simply due to an ineffective or lack of an onboarding process (source)
  • Increased retention, through onboarding, positively promotes culture, morale and productivity (source)
  • New employees who attended a structured onboarding programme were 69% more likely to remain at the organisation, for up to three years. (source)
  • Up to 20% of employee turnover takes place in the first 45 days (source)
  • New employees who were successfully onboarded were 58% more likely to be with the organisation after three years (source)
  • Organisations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire retention (source)

Reducing employee ramp-up time

  • Successful onboarding reduces the time it takes a new employee to be able to effectively contribute to the organisation
  • A shortened ramp-up time benefits a company by taking less time for an employee to reach productivity, to achieve better performance and to build relationships with their colleagues (source)

 Reducing staff turnover

  • Average cost of replacing an employee is between 16% and 20% of that employee’s salary (source)
  • Costs of employee turnover range from between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary (source)
  • Nearly 33% of new hires look for a new job within their first 6 months in the role (source)
  • 23% of new employees leave the organisation, before their first anniversary (source)

Increasing productivity

  • On average, it takes a newly hired employee 8 months to reach full productivity (source)
  • Organisations with a successful onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire productivity (source)

Improving employee contribution

  • 60% of companies fail to set milestones or goals for new hires (source)
  • Employees whose companies onboard longer gain full proficiency 34% faster than those with shorter programmes (source)
  • In the U.S. and U.K., an estimated $37 billion is spent annually on unproductive employees who don’t understand their job (source)

Enhancing emotional wellbeing and engagement

  • Manager satisfaction increases by 20% when their employees have formal onboarding (source)
  • Effective onboarding increases the likelihood that employees will be engaged at work
  • Successful onboarding can increase employees’ discretionary effort by as much as 20% (source)
  • Effective onboarding improves employee perceptions of the workplace and promotes engagement (source)

In summary, onboarding is critical in helping new employees fit into their new work environment. It also shortens the time it takes them to achieve full productivity whilst also setting them up for long-term retention.

“Oftentimes, the lack of a robust . . . assimilation process leaves the new employee confused and disoriented.” Bill Conaty former Senior Vice President of Human Resources at General Electric

Many higher education institutions and universities are seeking to achieve very similar goals, with their new students. This can be critically important when those students are from overseas or are coming from different cultures, backgrounds and geographic regions.

There is a clear opportunity for universities and educational institutions to follow the business world and to provide a seamless, engaging and supportive onboarding process. One that will ensure all students can seamlessly integrate into their new university life, whilst contributing to the overall benefit of the other students, principles, the university and the surrounding community.

How do you set yourself up for success?

  • Take a massive leap forward by applying the learnings from business use, where there is extensive application of very successful onboarding programmes
  • Seek to use technology and specifically mobile applications, to ensure that students are engaged in real-time, based on their real life needs and expectations
  • Develop and deploy an onboarding programme that rewards students for their participation, either symbolic or real-world
  • Ensure that your onboarding programme promotes continuous participation, by providing a highly interactive engagement, where the experience itself is both fun and rewarding
  • Use your onboarding programme to develop an in-depth understanding of what students require when joining and how to optimise the experience, not only over the first 90 days, but throughout the entire student journey

The journey is as important as the destination

A student onboarding programme is not just about the first week. It needs to be a continuous engagement programme that supports the student along the entire length of their education journey.

The key to any successful onboarding programme is the application of a well-defined progress journey. This is essential. A successful progress journey provides the student with a set number of tasks or actions to undertake e.g. such as accessing some information. These can be presented so the student either completes them in a set order or undertakes them in a way that best suits them. In both cases, students can see how far they have progressed / used the application, whilst at the same time the University can track the overall level of engagement of the student.

A suggested onboarding programme would follow the following progress journey:

 The first 7 days

  • Set expectations for the students
  • Convey the University values and cultural principles
  • Provide introductory information to aid orientation and ensure they have all the resources they need
  • Confirm all key events and help guide people to locations
  • Guide the student to visit the key facilities
  • Assist students in meeting their peers
  • Help find and assign a buddy or mentor

The first few months

  • Undertake a monthly check-in and ascertain the level of satisfaction of the students
  • Show that your care and are personally invested in ensuring the individual student is happy and succeeding
  • Update students on what is happening across the university
  • Promote specific clubs and associations
  • Ensure students are aware of all the support programmes that are available to them
  • Provide first-line support, as required

One year on

  • Prepare the student for the second year
  • Capture feedback that can be used for the following year’s new intakes
  • Identify students who wish to act as buddys’ for next year’s intake

“We want to focus on creating a memorable experience for the new hire in the first year rather than processing them in the first few weeks.” Cheryl Hughey Director of Onboarding at Southwest Airlines

The benefit of implementing a successful onboarding programme are often underestimated but they can significantly improve:

  • The costs associated with both recruiting, and then retaining students
  • The level of student productivity, including increased levels of attendance
  • Overall student performance, by ensuring they have all the resources and support they need across the entire student journey
  • Student retention rates, including the number of students who complete the full University course
  • Overall levels of student satisfaction. This can help increase popularity of the University and further help improve future recruitment
  • It also benefits your current students, and this in turn encourages them to support new student joiners.

It would seem that it is no longer a case of if an educational institution should look to technology to empower their onboarding process, but more a question of when. Time is of essence, and as the expectation of students continues to evolve and competition for their hearts and minds continues to grow, there is no better time than now to consider implementing a well-structured, mobile-first onboarding programme.

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