Asanother year’s worth of school leavers and university graduates joins an already tight jobs market,and with youth unemployment having risen again recently to 1.02 million, young people today know that they face stiff competition not just for jobs and training contracts, but even for placements to get industry experience in their chosen field. Add to this that employers report many young people, at all levelsof academic achievement,lack basic‘employability’ skills, and the prospects foremployers and young jobseekers alike arenot the brightest.
At the heart of the UK’s financial services sector,a quiet revolution has been underway, which may eventually provide models for other industries to follow of getting young people into work, and giving employers the talented, useful and work-ready members of staff they require. The Financial Skills Partnership (FSP), the employer-led skills champion for the sector, has been developing new approaches.
One of the latest and most innovative routes into the sector for graduates is the new Graduate Foundation College, which is currently calling for more companies to join it in itsnew approach and invest in their future talent.Starting next month, the GFC’s first pilot scheme will put 150 bright unemployed graduates through a concentrated structured 10-week training programme encompassing e-learning, face-to-face workshops and exam preparation, which major sector employers such as Aviva, Just Retirement and Scottish Widows have helped provide, ensuring its quality and industry relevance. Successful graduates will then be offered six months of paid industry experience with a small or medium-sized financial adviser practice.
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The training provided to the graduates before introducing them to the advisory firms includesthe first module of the regulator’s required qualification for retail investment advisers, in this case the Chartered Insurance Institutes R01 regulation and ethics module, and a grounding in supporting skills and industry knowledge. Carefully selected and relevantly pre-trained, these graduates will be streets ahead of other untrained recruits and will be able to make a real contribution to the firms they join from day one. It is hoped they will gain longer-term positions as trainee advisers, either with the firms offering them their placements or with others.
The scheme will initially operate in Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London and Manchester. Interested firms can still sign up and are encouraged to do so as soon as possible. The GFC’s second phase will commence in April 2013, when it will start offering additional streams of fast-track pre-employment training for stockbroking, mortgage advice, general insurance advice and paraplanning.
The GFC is a wonderful example of the industry pulling together to address its own skills needs, with large industry players contributing for the benefit of the sector as a whole. Small and medium-sized advisory firms stand to benefit most from this scheme, by tapping into the frameworks put in place by larger employers. In a sector where skills are at times scarce and sought-after, this and other initiatives should find take-up quickly, enabling the sector as a whole to grow and expand its skills base.The new scheme also shows the benefits of organising vocational training in close cooperation with employers, ensuringthe resulting schemes are fit-for-purpose.
Vocationally based training is the obvious and effective way to build skills for jobs, not just in our sector but across the wider economy. Another way to do this is through apprenticeships. We need to throw out our fusty ideas about them, they have entered the twenty-first century as high quality training options for those wishing to enter what is still one of the most sought after industry sectors, offering entry points to a wide variety of roles. With high university fees and graduate unemployment to consider, many bright and ambitious young people are choosing them as attractive and viable alternatives to graduate entry.
The FSP has been instrumental in developingsix apprenticeship frameworks currently being used across the sector, with over 7,000 apprentices starting in 2011/2012, spanning the full gamut of roles from accounting, payroll, book-keeping and professional services to providing financial services, financial advice and mortgage advice.
Of special interest to our sector are so-called higher apprenticeships. The government has set up a £25 million Higher Apprenticeship Fund (HAF) to help employers develop more of these, and FSP received an award to help develop employer-led higher apprenticeship frameworks in partnership with sector employers.
FSP is developing two Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship schemes in banking and insurance and has also worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers to develop a Level 4 scheme in professional services. FSP are also continuing to work with them on implementing the first Level 7 scheme for the professional services sector which includes qualifying withchartered status in accounting, audit and tax. Just as in the case of the GFC, for apprenticeships to succeed, the off-site learning element must be relevant and of high quality, and this is where employer involvement is crucial.
However, there are even more fundamental changes afoot. Far-sighted companies in the sector realise that to secure future talent – and for that matter future customers as well – they need to start engaging the attention of the generation coming through education now. In an age when young people are inundated with online information almost before they can walk or talk, it is important to reach out early and use the same channels that young people are using to gain information about the world, to give themaccurate and trustworthy information about our sector.
FSP’s online careers portal Directionsis one such channel. Itis a resource both for schools and for young people themselves,offering information on over 70 job profiles, with short interviews with those working in them, giving a real and tangible feel for what it could be like to follow in their footsteps. On another section of the website, employers list their opportunities for work experience, internships,apprenticeships, school leaver and graduate training programmes.
With the Directions website recently given a fresh look, and a young team in charge, FSP plans to do a lot more in the online and interactive space to help employers reach an ever wider talent pool. In a world where at the moment growth seems a little slow, FSP is busy devising and developing ways for employers to start growing their futures right now.
CEO, Financial Skills Partnership