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Bridging the gap between education and employment

The Graduate Foundation College is a joint FSP/industry initiative intended to help graduates with an eye on the financial advice sector to improve their ‘employability’

With young people making up a large part of the total number of unemployed people in the UK, initiatives need to be put in place to help them become employable and thereby a part of the future talent pipeline.

Small and medium-sized businesses employ over 50 per cent of the UK’s workforce; when it comes to recruiting new people without experience, they are the most risk-averse. In austere economic times, SMEs are more likely than large companies to streamline operations and invest less in training, preferring to take on people with experience.

In the financial advisory sector, the small firms looking to employ new people usually want existing advisers who already have a client bank and a Statement of Professional Standing.

How, then, does a graduate without relevant experience compete for jobs? Experience can be hard to come by if one does not have the relevant connections.

Of course, there is also the route of studying for professional qualifications in financial advice, regardless of whether one has sector experience. Various programmes exist but they usually have a very limited number of places available and they charge a fee.

Meeting a vital need

Employers often say that school leavers and fresh graduates alike lack “employability skills” and small companies often do not have sufficient resources to train them to the standard necessary to become operational and start making a valuable contribution.

For graduates wanting to work in the financial advisory sector, the Graduate Foundation College provides a step in the right direction. An initiative developed by the Financial Skills Partnership in association with the industry, the GFC seeks to prepare graduates for work in the sector through a 10-week pre-employment induction course that combines assistance on exam preparation with on-the-job training.

Selected graduates, who have shown in their application for the course that they are self-motivated, ambitious and committed to learning about the industry, make use of tools such as e-learning, face-to-face workshops and industry experience.

In line with the RDR, the course includes the Financial Services Regulation and Ethics module either through the CII or Calibrand.

On successful completion of the course, graduates have the opportunity to work for three to six months at participating firms as a paid internship.

Trainee feedback

The GFC’s first intake started the course in October 2012 and the FSP has been taking soundings from some of the trainees. We have found their feedback overwhelmingly positive, with hopes and aspirations raised and a general feeling that their employability has already been enhanced.

Among them, we spoke to 24-year-old Amba from London who has a degree in finance and accounting.

Amba had been temping in a tax role and was then unemployed for four months prior to starting the GFC programme. She wanted to do something constructive that would increase her employability and thought the opportunity to study at the GFC would help her gain experience in financial planning and broaden her horizons.

She says the course provides a good grounding in financial planning and in what to expect when working in the industry, with training in business skills such as communicating with clients.

Amba’s background and reasons for joining the programme resonate with many other trainees and as she looks to the future she feels she has more options available to her. She is more know­ledgeable about the financial advisory sector and has developed greater interest in it. Prior to the programme, she had believed she was suited only to accountancy.

Interestingly, other trainees on the course who lacked a financial services-related degree had initially feared they would either be unable to get on to the course or not succeed in the industry having completed it.

They were surprised that the course was open to them and that the lecturers explained topics well enough for them to be able to grasp.

Twenty-two-year-old Rebecca from Manchester, with a degree in English language and theology, says the course has enabled her to contemplate joining an industry which she had previously never considered, particularly given her educational background.

She says the course was an excellent opportunity for graduates struggling to find work and gain valuable experience. She is now keen to secure a job in financial advice and gain qualifications to become an IFA.

Employer’s perspective

From an employer’s point of view, receiving GFC graduates on internships involves only a minimal risk because the rigorous training course and robust assessment process mean those graduates are committed to the industry and therefore more likely to be suitable for permanent employment. Internships will therefore become more attractive to employers as a way of cultivating home-grown talent.

During those internships, participating firms will receive support from the FSP via a free one-year membership of its online internship service, which currently offers toolkits covering training and competence, apprenticeship and work experience, with others due to come online shortly.

In April 2013, the GFC will start offering additional streams of pre-employment training to bright and enthusiastic graduates. These will cover mortgage advice, paraplanning, wealth management and general insurance advice.

Small and medium-sized firms which are interested in the GFC’s offerings should contact us at the FSP as we are increasing the number of locations available, starting in April with London, Belfast, Glasgow and Norwich. We already have a number of graduates waiting to start financial planning internships, especially in Bristol, Leeds, London and Manchester.

Transfusion of talent

With the RDR to the fore, many advisers are choosing to retire earl­ier than planned and banks have been withdrawing their advice services from the market.

The sector needs an injection of fresh blood urgently and thanks to the GFC, small and medium-sized advisory firms now have a talent pipeline at their disposal.

Liz Field is chief executive of the Financial Skills Partnership


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