ISE Conference

Feedback from The Institute of Student Employers Conference – Themes and Priorities

Joanna Preston and Camilla Pennington were delighted to be invited to attend the ISE Conference hosted in Manchester during June.  The conference provided them with fantastic learning and networking opportunities, and a chance to visit one of the UK’s fastest growing cities.  With hot summer days and the hosting of the Manchester City triple win celebrations, the city pulled out all the stops!

Georgia Greer, Head of Insights at the ISE summarised the conference themes succinctly as follows:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Communities
  3. Change
  4. Choice
  5. And a fifth one I would add is Chat GPT!

What stood out for us was that many of the themes, challenges and priorities that emerged for our UK counterparts are similar, if not the same as those experienced by our South African membership base – it is the nuances that differ, and in many cases, solutions to suit our market would require tweaking.


Most of the breakaway sessions at the conference were joint presentations by an employer and a solution provider they had collaborated with.  The strength of collaboration is what will enable our community of practice to deliver solutions and innovation.  Key topics included Mental Health and Wellbeing, School Outreach and Engagement, Human Potential and how to measure it, Attracting and Engaging GenZ, How to accredit students for the skills they gain through co-curricular activities, Attracting more females into STEM disciplines, Increased sensitivity to social mobility when planning assessments and on-boarding, the Purpose and key benefits of Early Talent and a focus on Data and its critical role to enhance decision-making in marketing and recruitment processes.


It is through the communities we create that we are best able to support key concerns around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well as Mental Health and Wellbeing.  Sadly, Mental Health and Wellbeing was starkly highlighted by a tragic incident in which two students from Nottingham University lost their lives while we were in the UK.  There is a strong business case for investing in mental health, with guaranteed return on investment, with one of the case studies highlighting the importance of building a community, supporting wellbeing through on-boarding, and nominating mental health allies within the business. 


We have grappled with and embraced so much change during and post-Covid.  Key questions we should be asking are, “What is different for students and how have their expectations of employment and employers changed?”  A session we attended included a student panel where they revealed their key concerns – the increasing cost of living and mental health were at the top of the list.  They anticipate that getting a job is going to be tough and their priorities when job searching are high salaries and flexible working options.  Our hot-off-the-press Candidate Insights reveals very similar concerns for South African students with over 50% of respondents indicating that looking after their health and wellbeing and learning to manage their finances are key concerns when they enter the world of work.


Change provides the perfect segue way for choice.  Students have choice, Employers have choice, Universities have choice, Solution Providers have choice!  It is how we choose to adapt to the change and new demands that will make all the difference.  If we understand young talents’ concerns, how can we adapt our organisations to meet them halfway?  Is your EVP sending them the messages they want to hear?  When did you last review your EVP?  Do you have a meaningful DVP (Development Value Proposition) and will this appeal to your target audience when they are making their choices?


Not surprisingly, there was a lot of noise about ChatGPT!  It has been established that GPT-4 outshines most humans on an assessment.  Student surveys revealed that students are undoubtedly using ChatGPT for their coursework and that 68% will use it to assist with their job applications.  So, do we need to panic?  Is the integrity of assessments gone?  The answer is, in our view, “Proceed with caution!”  Use ChatGPT as a catalyst to improve assessments – can you build in algorithms to detect use of ChatGPT, and how should you adapt your assessments to mitigate any advantages that ChatGPT might allow?

A key highlight of the conference was the Awards evening and Gala Dinner, a glamorous affair indeed!  We have returned home with much food-for-thought and inspiration as we plan our own conference taking place on 15 and 16 November!