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My, how things have changed!

Author: Angus Farr, Director, Training Counts

Published: 07 Dec 2021

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Even if you’re not a fully paid-up subscriber to the 70/20/10 model, few of us would doubt the power and longevity of social and experiential learning. No wonder then that as universities and workplaces transition from lockdown to hybrid models of operation, we’re starting to see the effects of this drought of interaction on the skills, experiences and attitudes of young people.

Here are three that have caught my attention in the last couple of months.

1. Getting in – recruitment

I’m so old…that I can remember when telephone interviews started becoming popular in graduate recruitment. Ever since, I’ve tried to stay on top of developments in selection methods so I can flag them up to students during employability skills workshops.

In the last five or so years, the main technological innovation has been employers’ use of asynchronous online interviews – so like an ordinary online interview, but without anyone at the other end. At first it was tech companies using them, mainly because they…could! Latterly, other organisations, including accountancy employers adopted them as they saved staff time and allowed candidate responses to be clipped and assessed by different people.

So, it was always a matter of encouraging students to be alive to the next application of technology to selection methods.

So, imagine my amusement last month, at my first ‘in-room’ employability skills workshop since lockdown, that the thing causing the most anxiety among students was the prospect of … a physical in-person interview!

Here then is a cohort of students who have spent sufficient time in isolation that many of them have simply never had the experience of a one to one, face to face, eyeball to eyeball interview.

My, how things have changed!

On the other side of the fence of course (as I’ve commented before on this forum) are employers who are currently divided about whether they want to return to physical interviews or continue doing it all online.

2. Getting on – career development

Wind forward to first- and second-year accountancy trainees, and it would appear there are some who have become a bit too used to working from home.

On recent training courses, a number of managers have reported trainees being reluctant to come in to the office, even for the two days a week that is currently being suggested by many employers.

Naturally, there may be genuine concerns about the COVID-19 risks of commuting on public transport or worries about the underlying health conditions of other family members.

But some managers feel a malaise setting in.

Has it simply become too convenient and comfortable to do a day’s work at home, sat behind a screen, without even having to change out of slippers?

If it has, what effect will this have on those young professionals’ skills and experience development and indeed career opportunities?

3. Getting out – and about!

Jump forward again to ‘soon to be’ third-year trainees, and a curious phenomenon is emerging at a number of practice firms.

Managers are commenting that many of these, on the cusp of leading jobs as seniors, have never actually been out to a client!

They joined their firms in January 2020, spent the first few months of that year on study leave before returning to offices, or more likely their homes, at the start of lockdown.

So, managers are in the unusual position of having to brief them, and indeed the first and second years on the team, on the basics of on-site protocols and behaviour.

It is certainly easy to watch these unfolding scenarios and marvel at how dramatically different they are to our own experiences, or indeed the experiences of others just a few years ago.

However, do they add up to being any less a valuable learning experience? I’d love to say ‘No’ but feel the answer must surely be a muted ‘Yes’.

Talk of a ‘lost generation’ though is histrionics. But what’s happened over the last couple of years has undoubtedly deprived young people of valuable formal and informal learning opportunities. And I think it will take a very long time for this to work its way through the system.

Probably until after I retire. 

As I’ve already said, I am old.

Old enough in fact to know that there’s nothing wrong spending a working day in slippers!

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.