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Lisa Winnard: Plugging the skills gap

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As young people say goodbye to the summer and head back to school, college and university, just how many of them will be learning new skills to help them gain employment? It is an important question given  that employers, ministers and the Confederation of British Industry believe we need to make significant improvements in plugging the skills gap, otherwise our long-term economic recovery will stall.

Smaller businesses are particularly affected by skills shortages, with a number of studies suggesting companies are often held back from expanding by a shortage of skilled staff. IT and financial management are the most common skillsets cited as missing when hiring.

There are many theories as to why the skills system is broken, one of which being that we have had many years of students being guided to university level education. This does provide qualifications but it does not always provide the skills element which is crucial for businesses. 

More of a balance is needed to deliver effective advice to young people about all of the options available to them to ensure different training routes are encouraged, such as apprenticeships and traineeships. These provide a blend of practical and theoretical learning, with more access to skills development and on the job training. 

Much has been done over the past few years to develop more employer-led apprenticeship schemes, so let’s hope this will attract more young people to better quality programmes.

As HR director at Sesame Bankhall Group, the need for employees to have the core skills to benefit our business sits firmly on my agenda. Employers recognise a skills gap is emerging and it is seen as a key risk for the future. But there are lots of employers who are looking at how they can fill the gaps.

I recently met with the Financial and Legal Skills Partnership, which is an organisation supporting the development of a skilled workforce in the UK’s financial, finance and accountancy sectors.  We talked about the work it is doing to support employers in working with young people to help them to obtain skills and experience in the market. Some great programmes have been developed to provide access to skills. 

SBG is involved in many of the programmes, such as Get In, Get On which entails becoming an online career mentor for young people on “virtual” work experience.  

At the Financial Adviser School, we recognise qualifications alone will not develop our students into becoming financial advisers. Skills and experience gained with clients is critical. That is why the delivery of business skills, adviser skills and soft skills are fundamental to our programme.

Meanwhile, some good news for the financial services sector. This month, financial education became a compulsory part of the national curriculum for all maintained schools in England. It will be part of citizenship lessons for 11-to-16-year-olds. This opens up more awareness about jobs and careers in financial services, which has always been a challenge for the sector.

Lisa Winnard is HR director at Sesame Bankhall Group

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