The recent employment statistics have highlighted the difficulties faced by many young people trying to gain a foothold in the world of work.
Educational opportunities have improved for a great many and more now are able to demonstrate a record of academic achievement but the common gripe of employers is school and college do not give young people the skills that are necessary in the workplace.
It may be unrealistic for employers to expect new starters to come with truly relevant experience, although it could be argued this should be the aim of a rounded education. But there are many examples of people who have been able to adapt their skills and learning to the workplace.
Concern over the best way young people can gain experience which might impress a potential employer has led to consideration of work experience and internships. This in itself has been the subject of some debate as to their accessibility. There can be no doubt that access to internships is always likely to be somewhat restricted and while this may be criticised, they undoubtedly offer a great experience for those who are able to take the opportunity they present.
The introduction of university fees has highlighted the cost of funding further education. There can be little doubt that many future students will be considering their plans and may well decide to opt for a career where a university qualification is not a prerequisite. Some professions have moved to a graduate-only entry and there is now some pressure for these professions to reassess their approach so they can provide greater opportunity to a broader group.
The financial services sector is well placed to meet the needs of those who choose to enter the workplace direct from college. It has a proven track record of providing opportunities for individuals to acquire professional qualifications which are relevant to their careers and the importance in the modern world of professional qualifications is being recognised by both regulators and the wider public.
Public confidence in financial services has been seriously damaged by events of recent years. It is critically important for all parts of the sector to work together to restore public belief in the benefits that are available from what is still a world- leading industry.
Regulators have recognised they have a role to play in the design of products and the ways in which they are sold. It is equally recognised that the public has a right to expect that those employed in the industry will have the appropriate levels of knowledge and skill and will act in a proper and ethical manner. Regulators and professional bodies have an important role in ensuring that these expectations are met and that prompt action is taken to exclude those people who fail to meet the required standards.
In many ways, we are now entering a new and different world. As a profession, we should not only look upon students as the future but also do all we can to create a meritocracy which will attract the brightest and best to our profession from as broad a section of the community as possible.
Richard Fox is chief executive of the Chartered Insurance Institute’s Society of Mortgage Professionals