20/20 vision: looking into future people professionals’ career aspirations

HRM post-graduate students' perceptions on what they want from a career as a people professional

For employers looking to recruit and develop new talent into the people profession, it’s imperative that we understand the aspirations of the next generation. Getting an insight into the mindset of future people professionals will not only help attract high calibre candidates, but will also ensure that their career progression needs are met.

Championing change through evidence-based insight

To better understand the career aspirations of the next cohort of people professionals, the CIPD has undertaken new exploratory research with a segment of full-time, Masters-level students on CIPD-accredited courses in universities across the UK and Ireland. In October and November 2021, we asked these students 20 career-related questions in an online survey.

Our stand-out findings on how our student respondents envisage their careers at present and in the future will inform organisations’ HR strategies and ensure the needs of people professionals are met in the ever-changing world of work.

Several messages come across loud and clear. In particular, our findings indicate that soon-to-be-qualified people professionals are highly motivated to succeed. They also believe that:

  • having a CIPD-accredited Masters degree in HRM is highly important in gaining career-starter entry to the profession
  • people profession work is important, worthwhile and a source of personal meaning
  • making a positive contribution to people’s working lives is the most appealing feature of people profession work
  • ambition and determination to be successful have increased due to COVID-19
  • director or senior specialist/generalist roles are career progression goals.

The CIPD envisages championing better work and working lives as the main purpose of the people profession, as framed in our Profession Map. The collective findings from our student research imply that upcoming practitioners share this vision – and intend to achieve it.

The importance of the research

Simon Graham, CIPD Head of Qualifications, explains: ‘We aim to support people professionals to shape the future of good work. To do this, we need to understand what people professionals at all stages think. The views of people embarking on a career in the profession are always important, but especially so now, as their experiences of the past 18 months plus of COVID-19-related disruption may impact on their thinking about their careers.’

From a university perspective too, the research is timely: ‘This is a critical and interesting time for the people profession – a turning point in many ways. COVID-19 is transforming and challenging the way we live and work. With the rise of more flexible and remote working practices, and the technology that enables this, comes implications for how people are led and developed in organisations. We’re proud to be involved in developing the next generation of people profession leaders through our CIPD-accredited MSc programmes, and we are delighted that our HRM students are taking part in this important research’, notes Dr Kirsteen Grant, Associate Professor of Work and Employment and Deputy Head of Research at the Business School in Edinburgh Napier University.

At the all-important level of accredited programme delivery, our research has meaning as well. ‘We’re delighted to contribute to the people profession through our Human Resource Management (MSc) programme. In asking our session 2021/22 full-time students to take part in research on their careers, we are not only demonstrating our interest in their opinions but also our commitment to evidence-based practice’, comments Dr Xiaoni Ren, Senior Lecturer in HRM at Cardiff School of Management, Cardiff Metropolitan University. 

The research especially appeals to the students who agreed to share their views because it gives them ‘insights into the perspectives of [our] peers’ and an ‘opportunity to shape the future’ of their chosen profession.