Key early talent developments to watch out for in 2022

Jan 4, 2022 | Sector & policy

Debs McCormack, head of early talent at Pinsent Masons, reflects on her last few years as ISE chair and looks to the key developments to watch out for in 2022.

As we enter 2022, it’s natural that we reflect on what’s been achieved in 2021, both personally and professionally. And as I look forward to the AGM when I will prepare to pass on the baton to the next ISE chair, I’ve been thinking about my term on the board and, importantly, what’s changed during the past four years.

Although released in 1972, David Bowie’s Changes lyrics still resonate when we consider the many strange changes we have all faced since March 2020.

Turn and face the strange,


There’s gonna have to be a different man

Time may change me,

But I can’t trace time.

The pandemic has been the catalyst for substantial and lasting change on many fronts. Whether it’s mask-wearing, social distancing or our familiarity with Zoom and MS Teams, the initial novelty of concepts and technology – which only two years ago most of us hadn’t given a thought to – have become our social and professional norms.

Personally, and organisationally, we’ve all adapted quickly, embracing the benefits of the pivot to a virtual environment, while also being mindful of its limitations and downsides. As a small business, the ISE has quickly seized the opportunity to make virtual work to its advantage in a way that would have been inconceivable in 2019.

So, with change as our constant, and as we all commit in earnest to our 2022 New Year resolutions (mine is to smash it on my Peloton), let’s look at some of the key developments impacting early talent and the ISE community.

Inclusivity as our ‘golden thread’

In the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd and the #metoo movement, it feels like there’s finally been a substantive culture shift in terms of how organisations and individuals perceive equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), with the emphasis now firmly on inclusion and belonging

Thankfully, EDI activities are no longer well-intentioned HR or responsible business initiatives undertaken at the side of our desks. The expertise of early talent professionals, who have been committed to diversifying talent pipelines for many years, is now being sought out by the C-suite to share our experience and influence people agendas, with inclusion as a strategic imperative.

The ISE’s inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Conference last year showcased the breadth and depth of expertise across our institute, providing an opportunity to share and learn from the experience of our increasingly diverse membership.

And with diversification of the ISE front of mind, it’s pleasing to see a more representative board emerge from the 2021 director recruitment campaign.

Mental health focus

Covid has undeniably impacted mental and physical health. The isolation of homeworking has been challenging for many at all ages and stages. Our early talent populations have missed out on rites of passage like Fresher’s Week, vacation placements and face-to-face development with employers.

We are all looking for ways to enable our graduates, apprentices, and interns to ‘learn by osmosis’, replicating those ‘water cooler’ moments through which we build relationships and learn to navigate working life.

Over the past few years, many organisations have been increasing their mental health and wellbeing support for their employees and those strategies have been truly stress-tested during the pandemic.

In response, the ISE’s ‘Turning Mental Health on its Head’ workshop provided stakeholders with an opportunity to learn from and share their experiences of building resilience and managing mental health challenges within the early talent populations we look after.

Pivot to virtual

Although we’ve all very quickly taken it for granted, the pivot to virtual has been game changing in so many ways.

Open access work experience programmes have democratised access to opportunities for students and enabled many of us to participate in a far broader range of learning and networking events than would be possible in person. However, the financial and carbon footprint efficiencies are a bonus, which come at the expense of human interactions.

It’s the ‘people piece’ that will be a major focus for many of us in 2022 – if we have the attraction and travel budgets to support at least some return to pre-Covid face-to-face activity.

Our thriving community

From the ISE perspective, engagement in events, focus groups and knowledge hub resources, has never been higher. That’s been so satisfying to see because it demonstrates how valuable the ISE’s network and well of knowledge is to its membership when we are navigating such substantial challenges.

The statistics in the ISE Annual Statement are impressive and indicative of the thriving community we’ve all contributed to and benefitted from throughout the pandemic.

Crystal ball gazing

So, what does 2022 have in store?

I’m sure I’m not alone in predicting plenty more of the same uncertainty and need for us to be agile in our approach to how we engage, recruit, and develop the next generation of talent for our organisations.

The many lessons learned over the past two years stand our sector and the ISE in good stead, as a blended approach (combining face-to-face and online elements) becomes further embedded as our collective M.O.

With the benefit of increasing EDI and mental health knowledge and expertise we will re-double our efforts to deliver a truly representative and resilient workforce to meet the needs and aims of our economy as we bounce back from the pandemic.

And we will develop our know-how and strategic thinking in relation to newer areas for our sector including environmental, social and corporate governance.

The ISE remains brilliantly placed to bring our membership together to exchange knowledge and encourage collaboration on all of the above and so much more.

If our individual carbon footprint budgets allow some travel, I hope to see many of you at the ISE Recruitment Conference 2022 in Brighton this June. As I write this blog, the early bird invitation popped into my inbox and I booked without hesitation because one of my other 2022 resolutions is definitely to get out more – if safe to do so!

As 2021 draws to a close, it feels appropriate to quote Bowie again, because, ‘I don’t know where I am going, but I know it won’t be boring!’

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