In order: Hassan Kamara of EY, Abigail Bryce of Moorhouse and Karan Kular of Accenture

Following the great ‘working- from-home’ experiment during pandemic lockdowns, white collar work is evolving to a hybrid model — offering workers more flexibility in how and where they operate. But, for early-career consultants, there are downsides: fewer days in the office mean fewer opportunities to learn by osmosis from senior colleagues.

How are these younger cohorts, especially those who joined firms during the health crisis, receiving the training and development they need to be effective in the new world of work?

With everyone in the office less, firms have had to be proactive: adjusting their approach to managing younger staff, providing coaching, and helping them to network.

Despite Covid, the recruitment of young consultants has remained strong. About 3,800 graduates, trainees, school leavers and apprentices joined the industry in 2020, up from 3,226 in 2019, according to Young Management Consultancies Association, a professional network for those starting a career in the sector.

Successful young businesswoman Speaking in front of Audience at office
In training: firms are trying to find a balance of in-person and virtual support for new starters © filadendron/Getty Images

In addition, research by the association found that 35 per cent of respondents with five years or fewer experience expected continued professional development. For respondents with more than five years experience, 29 per cent expected this.

Hassan Kamara, 24, joined EY in 2017 and is chair of Young MCA. He has noticed more coaching being offered by the firm, which he says has been one of the advantages of hybrid work: “Everybody’s got such different types of skill sets and different situations that they’re in, so I think what’s quite nice is being listened to and people understanding what are the challenges to you specifically.”

Kamara says EY has established “six behaviours” that its managers need to take into account when dealing with young learners. These include: finding opportunities for people to learn from each other; using networks to help people make useful contacts; and communicating the expectations of learning on the job.

“They’re simple steps,” says Hywel Ball, EY’s UK Chair, “but, when applied consciously and consistently, can make a huge difference to someone’s experience.”

Ball adds that the firm is also focusing on high quality virtual training. It has launched an EY Tech MBA with Hult International Business School and a virtual EY masters degree in business analytics — both of which are available for free to all staff globally.

However, being a new joiner in a remote environment can still be a challenge. Abigail Bryce, 27, joined Moorhouse from Managementors in April of last year and, at first, did not always know who to reach out to. “You miss out on conversations, which as a new joiner you’re not privy to,” she points out.

But she agrees the upside is that feedback is more structured. At Moorhouse, Microsoft Teams is set up to provide specific team channels — digital and technology for example — and networking in a virtual space. “You can just ping questions in there,” says Bryce — to seek information or ask colleagues if they have experience in similar projects or challenges. “That’s been quite a good way to link up with new people.”

Meanwhile, Accenture took the pandemic as an opportunity to completely reinvent its learning and development for new starters, adapting to deliver a remote programme that includes courses on consulting fundamentals and data fluency.

Orla May Baker, who leads operations for Accenture’s analyst consulting group, says it is important to achieve a balance between virtual and in-person training to meet the needs of all learners and “maintain human connections”.

Karan Kular joined Accenture as a consulting analyst just before the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020 and had concerns about the level of exposure he would have to client interactions, the opportunities for networking and the appropriateness of training.

Pre-pandemic, cohorts of new joiners had experienced induction programmes in other cities such as Madrid, so he had doubts as to whether virtual substitutes could match up. However, training from home, he has been impressed with the numerous courses on building key skills, such as effective communication.

Kular says the virtual training “exceeded my expectations”.

He has also gained certifications in areas such as cloud technology, which has “improved my technical understanding of clients’ needs and how we can help partner with them and offer solutions”.

Like Bryce, the challenges have come when needing to quickly bounce ideas off others and clarify details, which can take longer virtually, and in picking up the necessary soft skills to manage difficult situations with clients.

Ian Elliott, PwC UK’s chief people officer, says that the key to ensuring that the hybrid model works for everybody is simple:

“Create a sense of belonging — especially for those who’ve just joined.”

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