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Sense of direction

Financial Services Skills Council head of careers and higher education Jenny Barber explains how new initiative Directions is aiming to give new finance industry recruits the knowledge they need to make informed career decisions

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It has been just over a year since the Financial Services Skills Council launched its online careers information service, Directions and at just the right time, when you consider all that has happened in the world of financial services in the last 12 months.

The extent of the financial crisis has meant very few of us in the UK have remained unaffected. While the headlines in the press have focused heavily on the banking crisis and bankers’ bonuses, the impact that the crisis has had on attracting new talent to the sector seems to have gone unnoticed, in particular, the impact that it has had on young people, many of whom simply will not consider a career in financial services as a result.

The extent of this problem was highlighted to me the other day by one of my colleagues. While working with a group of sixth-form students in Scotland, she asked how many would like a career in financial services and not one responded positively. Worrying indeed.

Against this backdrop, the FSSC’s strategy has been built around the requirement to ensure progression through to the professions and to promoting the sector to new entrants. This is relevant to all parts of the sector, including advisers.

At a time when the retail distribution review poses challenges to existing advisers to ensure that they achieve the appropriate qualifications, there are challenges to make sure we retain their knowledge and experience while they aim to meet the qualification deadlines.

it is imperative that employers support students in navigating their wayinto the sector and realising their career potential

Getting new entrants into this market has been a challenge even before the recent financial crisis, so it is vital that the industry works together to identify solutions that will attract, develop and retain entrants into the financial advice arena.

Given the UK’s leading role in the international financial services market, it is crucial to connect with and influence young people at the career decision-making stage.

Many of the roles in financial services, although stimulating and rewarding to the right individual, are unheard of by young people and often harder to wrap their heads around compared with other options.

The FSSC launched Directions to tackle this problem, acting as a gateway into all types of careers in the financial services and accountancy sectors and to provide young people with independent and objective information. However, employers and professional bodies have an important role to play in attracting new recruits by interacting with them and highlighting the opportunities available.

Some are already making big inroads and reaching out to sixth-form students and graduates through simple careers events. A good example is Legal & General Investment Management, which recently teamed up with the FSSC and ran an event for sixth-form students from six London boroughs, including Tower Hamlets and Lambeth.

Students heard presentations from staff but perhaps more importantly, given the current climate, learnt more about the importance of managing risk across the insurance and investment sectors. Funded by the City of London Corporation, feedback from the students who attended was extremely positive and another three events are planned with other City employers over the next 18 months. But more needs to be done.

With the Fair Access to the Professions report recently released, it is imperative that employers in the industry support students in navigating their way into the sector and realising their career potential. This means that the information on careers in financial services needs to be representative and accurate at all times.

This is where the wider industry as well as the professional bodies can play a key role. For example, all information on the Directions website is gathered through regular consultation with the industry. This is especially important given the range and complexity of careers available in financial services and the changing nature of jobs, which means new types of jobs are being created, which require a different skills set.

At the FSSC, we are constantly looking for new ways to engage with and inform potential new entrants. This includes joint ventures with employers, targeted communications and events to schools, colleges and universities.

As we approach a general election, both Labour and the Conservative Party have made it clear that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the opportunities within the realms of financial services.

At the moment, there is a big emphasis on providing “information, advice and guidance” to young people who may consider a career in the sector. This is something that I believe will continue to underpin government strategy, regardless of who wins the election in May.

To succeed, accessibility is crucial and online is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reach young adults.

Just as important is the support from the wider industry as a whole. While we work in partnership with professional bodies and employers to provide up to date and accurate information to promote careers in financial services and accountancy, there is a great deal more that could be achieved by more direct contact with young people.

We believe we have started the ball rolling but with greater participation from employers more can be done to ensure we keep the UK as the world’s leader when it comes to financial services.

Directions, the FSSC website to provide information on different careers in financial services, can be found at www. fssc.org.uk/directions

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