Trends in Early Career Development: Insights from the ISE Development Survey


Generation Z talent has firmly established its presence in workplaces across the globe. As advocates for nurturing the next generation of talent, we’re always curious and excited when the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) releases their annual Student Development Survey. This year, it was released at the Student Development Conference in London, where our team once again attended, and presented our own research conducted in collaboration with Spotted Zebra.  

This year’s survey is full of insights on the latest trends and practices shaping the landscape of onboarding, skills development, retention, and progression for early career talent. Here, we’ve shared five insights from the survey. 

1. Revolution in Line Manager Training  

Around 15 years ago, I was on a panel at a similar early talent conference and was asked “If you only had $10,000 to spend on developing your graduates, what would you send it on?” The answer was clear for me: “Spend it on training their managers”. The audience wondered what I meant. Did I not hear the question properly? Investing in line managers, to support graduates, was almost unheard of.  

Line managers are either the heroes, or anti-heroes, of early talent development, carrying huge influence over the growth and trajectory of young professionals. Early talent program budgets should have a provision for line manager training. Most line managers want to be great and want to be shown how. Understanding the complexities of the multigenerational workforce is important. Sharpening skills in leading, developing and engaging early career talent will ensure early talent develops more effectively.  

Today, things are different. With 84% of organisations now providing training for line managers of graduates and 64% for apprentices. Of these, 80% of organisations train their line manages on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. The tide has turned, and the future is brighter.  


2. Resurgence in Face-to-Face Onboarding 

A resurgence in face-to-face Onboarding is underway. From a modest 29% in 2022 to a staggering 69% in 2024, organisations are rediscovering the value of in-person connections at Onboarding, a critical moment in the early talent journey. Beyond the convenience of virtual, the investment in in-person interaction is approaching pre-pandemic levels. Fostering deeper bonds and richer experiences for early talent cohorts.  

Beyond onboarding, the digital mix of early talent development programmes is significant. Our own data, which includes Onboarding, shows the digital mix of development programmes is 36% face-to-face, and 58% virtual (across UK, Asia, and Australia) over the past 12 months. It’s empowering to bring your early talent together in person at high-value moments, such as Onboarding, and smart to leverage technology-enabled virtual development in between.  


3. Tailored vs. Universal Development 

Amidst debate between tailored and universal development programs, a surprising shift is unfolding. While bespoke programs have long been championed as the gold standard, a majority (58%) of organisations are embracing a one-size-fits-all approach. But within this simplicity lies efficiency.  

Meanwhile, our view is that as more diverse cohorts continue to enter early talent pipelines, and pressure to maximise development budgets remains, personalised learning journeys will emerge as a third alternative. By leveraging technology-enabled virtual platforms, and personal skills assessments, organisations can pioneer new pathways to development, empowering early career talent to unleash their full potential. 


4. Not Ready with Resilience: The common skill gap  

Despite strides in early talent development upon entering the workforce, organisations face a sobering reality – less organisations believe their early talent are career ready at point of hire in 2024. Just 49%, down from 54% last year for graduates. And 25%, down from 39% last year for college and school leavers. And a lack of Resilience is at the top of the table.  

Resilience in early talent at point of hire is much less than organisations expect; 37% for graduates and 35% for college and school leavers. Not surprisingly, Resilience appears high in Spotted Zebra’s recruitment data and DBL’s own development data in the ‘Skills most in demand’ for early talent roles and programmes. Insights we shared during the conference.    

There is hope though. Our research and design of content and learning for early career talent shows Resilience can be cultivated over time. If we can help more Generation Z early career professionals to start thinking about resilience before they need it, and to be prepared with tools for when the time comes, we believe they can reap the benefits. By being prepared this way, early talent can develop mental fitness, improve health and wellbeing, and perform more effectively in their roles.  

5. Show Me the Money: Investing in the Future

60% of early talent development budgets is spent on graduates, much more so than Apprentices at 20% and Interns at 15%. The ISE survey also reveals an increase in the median average spend on development per hire, after inflation, although this could be influenced by lower hiring numbers in the past year. 

Either way, one thing remains clear. Organisations recognise the value of nurturing early career hires and continue to invest substantially in development programmes, even under tough economic conditions. 

Particularly investing in learning journeys across the length of a graduate programme or apprenticeship. Where skill development, engagement, and connections across the business can be fostered more effectively.   

In 2024, the landscape of early career development is vibrant and ever evolving. If you are considering ways to enhance your early talent development programmes, or increase the capabilities of your line manager population, then please reach out to one of our specialists today. Together, let’s continue to unlock the potential of early career talent in organisations, everywhere.  


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Josh Mackenzie

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