Of course, the unemployment figure is only one half of the equation and it cannot be doubted that those in employment are at an all-time high.
Comparisons with times past can lead to false conclusions. So, for example, it is hard to draw any real comparison between the work done by today’s labour force and that of even 20 years ago. Coal, steel, shipbuilding, heavy engineering and the docks were all huge employers. We have seen these jobs replaced by service sector opportunities. The new jobs often have very different skill requirements from those they have replaced and some of those who have been displaced have inevitably struggled to come to terms with the new world.
It is well signposted that we are in the middle of a huge demographic change. When this was first identified, much of the comment suggested that there would be a huge crisis as the population aged but this has been masked to a significant extent as we have come to rely on young people coming to the UK from other parts of the world looking for work.
There can be no doubt that this has in many ways worked to the advantage of the UK, many of the incoming workers having received a high quality of education in their home countries and possessing skills in high demand.
However, not everything in the labour market is positive. Increasingly, we all know of firms which are struggling to recruit. The problem exists at all levels – skilled staff who can add to the intellectual property of the firm and less specialised staff who can take responsibility for all those more routine tasks that are equally important in terms of supporting the client. In many areas, the problem has almost reached critical proportions and all employers must take positive action to protect their futures.
Our industry has traditionally recruited across the age range. Many advisers come into the industry as a result of a career change and there have always been opportunities for young people looking to build a career. Both these groups need training to understand the technicalities and regulation has meant that there can also be a requirement for formal qualifications. Fortunately, there is now more assistance for those wishing to develop their abilities. The Government has recognised the importance of financial services as an employer and funding is available to help colleges deliver courses.
But Government assistance will not produce the full answer. Employers must link with local colleges to ensure that the right courses are being provided in their area and students of all ages are encouraged to consider financial services as a career. Educators will often not have experience of the business world and are likely to react positively to a chance for students to talk to people working in the sector or get hands-on experience in a firm.
Working with colleges may be the way to ensure your firm continues to have access to the high quality staff. It also ensures continuing success for the staff, the proprietor and the clients.
Richard Fox is chief executive of the CII Mortgage Professional Society