Post-graduate students are the future of work. As people professionals looking to recruit and develop talent pipelines, it’s important to understand the new generation’s motivations for entering the people profession. Gaining insight into their preferences, aspirations for career development and what emerging trends they see as most important is key to attracting and supporting them.

We surveyed 148 full-time students on CIPD-accredited HRM Masters-level programmes at 15 universities across the UK and Ireland in late 2021, to better understand the ambitions of the future of the profession.

While these findings are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based.

Expectations and aspirations

Making a positive contribution is the most attractive feature of people profession work

The majority of students are attracted to a people profession career as they either want to make a positive contribution to working lives (47%), are interested in the variety of activities (22%) or want to interact with a range of people (18%).

A smaller percentage are attracted by salary prospects (11%).

The COVID-19 context has made people profession work more important

89% of respondents believe the COVID-19 context has made people managers’ work more important or has given it a higher profile.

Only 3% think it has made the work less important or given it a lower profile.

Recruitment and talent management is the most popular role

The top three roles noted by respondents are: recruitment and talent management (38%), generalist HR (29%) and learning and development (18%).

A smaller amount (8%) are interested in people analytics.

Learning and development opportunities are key when starting a career

Learning and development was rated most important when starting a people profession career (37%), followed by having a supportive organisational culture (34%).

Other features identified include teamwork (12%), enjoyment and fun (10%) and regular performance feedback (8%).

Hybrid or blended working is preferred

62% of respondents would prefer a mix of home and workplace working, whilst 30% would prefer to be solely based in the workplace.

Just 5% would prefer a remote working hub and 2% would prefer to work only at home.

Flexible working is the preferred working pattern

Flexible working appeals to 74% of respondents, either within times set by their employer (49%) or within times decided by themselves (25%).

A further 16% would prefer set working hours and 10% would favour compressed working hours (longer working hours over fewer days).

Most respondents aspire to achieve a senior role

88% of those surveyed hope to progress to a senior people profession role, with 50% aspiring to reach HR director level and 38% a senior specialist or generalist role.

A further 9% wished to reach a mid-level role in the profession.

Engaging in CPD is seen as the single best career enabler

33% believe that career progression is supported by a combination of Continuing Professional Development (CPD), having self-confidence, effective networking skills and line manager support.

However, 21% believe that CPD is the single factor most enabling career progression.

Supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing is the organisational priority

Over half of the respondents (56%) think that employees’ health and wellbeing is a much greater priority than other recent changes in people profession work.

Other priorities include increasing the use of digital technologies (23%), working more collaboratively with other business functions (12%) and further influencing organisational strategy (8%).

Inclusion and diversity is the most important issue for people professionals today

Inclusion and diversity is by far the most important contemporary issue for people profession managers, according to 57% of respondents.

Other key issues identified include climate change (15%), economic conditions (13%) and work intensification (11%).


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