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Liz Field: The importance of securing new blood for the industry

Today’s young people are having to look harder to find their own routes to career progression and success than they have had to do for a long time.

The skills and careers landscape is changing so rapidly that a new joint report by the Financial Skills Partnership and Career Academies UK, Routes to Success, reports that many young people lack the knowledge and tools to navigate it.

There is a real opportunity here for employers to reach out to young people and educate and inform them about the growing variety of opportunities available in the financial sector and within their organisations. These include the increasing number of excellent alternatives to traditional graduate entry, from which both employers and young people stand to benefit.

Routes to Success stresses that it is essential for employers to communicate opportunities effectively to young people and also calls for employers to ensure that both apprenticeships and school leaver programmes provide broad and meaningful experience, relevant and transferable qualifications, and good potential for progression.

Last year, the Financial Skills Partnership introduced a new way for financial sector companies to communicate directly with large numbers of young people through its online careers portal Directions. This allows young people to research career profiles in the financial sector online and then to click through to current vacancies with sector employers for work experience, internships, apprenticeships and school leaver and graduate programmes.

Large employers, including Aviva, RBS, HSBC and RSA report that this new tool is already reaping business benefits and empowering them by widening the talent pool to which they have access, to better serve a market that is rapidly becoming ever more diverse.

The FSP has also developed guidelines for good quality work experience placements which offer meaningful experience to young people yet are business-driven. Work experience is a uniquely effective way to initiate and foster relationships with young people which may eventually blossom into rewarding careers for the students and well-informed, suitable and motivated new staff for employers.

Many employers, including KPMG, have also expanded their school-leavers’ programmes, offering new kinds of starting points for high-calibre careers, for example, for A-level students, which the FSP has facilitated.

Besides this, the FSP has developed higher apprenticeship frameworks in banking and insurance with employers, which will create new vocational opportunities with major employers such as HSBC, in a variety of roles within branch networks, call centres and operational areas.

For young people, these new routes into a sector may open up their horizons and sow the seeds for rewarding careers in sectors they had previously never even considered.

Graduates will still be the right candidates for many openings and the FSP has been pushing back the frontiers here to widen employer access to the brightest and most motivated candidates by setting up the Graduate Foundation College.

The financial sector is the first sector to focus on and fill this gap in provision by making graduates job-ready and helping SMEs with a pipeline if talent. Large companies will help mentor and develop this young talent. The college is expected to give rise to emulators in other industry sectors.

This college offers focused fast-track pre-employment training which part-qualifies them to become financial advisors. The training makes the graduates attractive candidates for recruitment by SMEs, who may trial them first on a risk-free paid work placement.

Examples of all these positive ways of responding to the current careers crisis can be found on Directions. They all answer the call to action expressed by Routes to Success’ authors, who ask that young people be given the tools to take responsibility for their own careers and make better informed choices. 

Based on a survey of 17 and 18-year-old Career Academies UK students, the report found that currently many students intending to apply for university lack proper knowledge of universities and courses, students have superficial and inaccurate knowledge of apprenticeships and do not know much about employers’ school leavers’ programmes and how to access them. 

The benefits to employers of reaching out to young people are manifold and clear. There will be a flow of enthusiastic recruits who have a more accurate idea of what the industry is about prior to joining.

Not only will they bring the fresh blood which financial sector businesses need to replace natural wastage and meet new regulatory and competitive challenges, individual organisations and the industry will also profit by opening up their workforce to become more diverse and thereby better able to service an increasingly diverse customer base in an increasingly competitive industry.

These new pathways into the sector really are routes to success, both for the industry and for young people and will ensure the availability of a rich talent pool for the industry’s future, helping the sector’s businesses compete, excel and grow.

Liz Field is chief executive of the Financial Skills Partnership

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