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Trends in career development; looking back and forward


I’ve been invited to look back on some of the key trends we observed at The Career Innovation Company in 2021, and look forward to what 2022 might bring. In searching for a theme, I am tempted to refer to the phrase ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. How appropriate is this idea in our current pandemic environment?

What changes have we seen?

  1. Innovation and the HR function

2021 was framed by many talent and career commentators as the year of ‘the Big Resignation’, ‘the Big Reset’ or the ‘Big Re-shuffle’.  They referred to the way the pandemic has led many employees to question the fit between their job, the opportunities they see, and their future. In response, many employers have scrambled to adapt their career offer so it entices existing employees to stay and attracts new talent to join.

The danger here is that the re-drafted career proposition is little more than a tactical response to the urgency of a perceived threat. At our October 2021 roundtable, our provocateur from W.L. Gore clearly spelt out how to ensure a pipeline of future mission-critical talent. Three things she said stuck with me:

  • understand talented people as if they were customers; how to spot them, how to grow them, and how to keep them
  • fine tune the work environment so talent can flourish, and deliver what the business needs from them
  • innovate; in this case, question, challenge and disrupt conventional approaches to hiring, talent development and reward

The requirement for HR to be more innovative, and for colleagues from different disciplines to work together on solutions to challenging problems was also a theme of our Careers and Reward roundtable. We considered how flatter structures and narrower pay scales make it difficult for specialists to see opportunities for career progression. We concluded that the way forward might involve broader salary ranges, hybrid expert/team leader roles, and more discretion for managers to make reward decisions; each challenging the status quo.

  1. Career management partnership

Our work continued to focus on helping clients to strengthen their support for individuals, managers, and the organisation; the key stakeholders in any effective career management strategy.

Individuals: raising their awareness of the need to take responsibility for their careers, equipping them with the skills they need for this, and motivating them to believe it’s possible in their workplace.

Managers: preparing leaders to be more empathetic and better listeners as they manage career conversations, so they personalise the guidance and encouragement they offer to their people.

As well as training managers, we’re also helping more clients to equip career advisers or supporters to provide in-depth information about careers in different parts of the business.

Organisation: helping clients to balance the medium term objective of putting a career framework in place, with the short-term need to create a sense of excitement amongst employees about the full range of benefits included in the career offer.

We’ve seen a growing need for career development to be bold, innovative and ambitious, as illustrated by LinkedIn’s recent energising career month (showcased at our December roundtable). We’ve observed the positive impact of inspiring career stories, particularly those reflecting the cultural shifts the organisation needs to make.

What’s next in 2022?

  1. Priorities converging

Anticipating continued tight labour markets, I see a consolidation of three areas of need:

  • Greater transparency about career options, pathways and opportunities
  • More internal talent mobility – to populate projects and deliver on the career proposition
  • Increased investment in re-skilling – as organisations leverage the potential of their existing workforce

An emphasis on skill requirements is the common currency that connects each of these trends, and an opportunity marketplace platform can be an effective and easy to use vehicle to satisfy them.

  1. Challenge and opportunity

Two other themes are hot topics for talent and career professionals in 2022.

  • Career conversations: as remote and hybrid working are becoming the norm for many, time in the office with colleagues is at a premium. We know that leaders have always struggled to find time for career conversations. But with calls for a more people-centric style of leadership, and personal development and career growth increasingly important to individuals, how do we ensure conversations are prioritised? Are virtual discussions an acceptable alternative to face to face interactions?
  • The career deal: is an important element of the overall ‘employee experience’ that employers develop to be seen as a great place to work. Surveys indicate that the credibility of sustainability, environmental protection, equity and inclusion policies are increasingly influential as employees decide whether to join or stay with an organisation. What contribution can innovative career development practices play in exposing people to a business’s green agenda? How do they build a sense of trust and belonging for traditionally under-represented groups?

Are things really changing, or staying the same?

At the start of this article I questioned whether ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ fits these times. However, there are some enduring truths in recent changes:

An effective approach to career development is about much more than a career proposition, and the statement of intent it represents. It requires an integrated strategy, priority areas of focus, and a clear business rationale.

Organisations don’t differentiate themselves by what they say in their career offer, but how well they live up to it in practice. This calls for everybody in the business to;

  • understand why the career proposition is important and what it requires of them
  • be equipped with the skills they need to play their role
  • have access to the technology that will enable self-managed careers
  • be supported and encouraged by their manager
  • be recognised and rewarded for doing the right thing

Returning to the theme of innovation in people management; what do you need to do differently to make a positive difference within your organisation in 2022?

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