SPECIAL FEATURE: Untapped Potential

Robyn Hall

June 28, 2013

The UK remains in the grip of economic strife and the financial services industry continues to lose staff as a result of macro events and specific legislative changes such as the Retail Distribution Review.

One can therefore rightly question whether now is the right time to be looking at where the growth and talent for the future will come from.

However, it is well known that parts of the financial services industry have been struggling to attract young talent and as a result the average age of its employees has been rising steadily, so much so that many businesses have no succession plans and their only exit route is by sale.

Many readers will remember a time when there was not a fixation on academic degrees and it was normal practice for people to enter the world of financial services straight from school. Indeed many of our industry’s leaders followed this route. Since this time the route to work has changed and much of what worked in the past has been lost.

Two of the most important changes are being addressed at the moment; the first is the lack of experience of work for young people before they make choices on whether to go straight to employment or on to university. The other is greater access to apprenticeships which the Chartered Insurance Institute is looking at: earlier this year it announced that it had over 1,000 financial firms offering apprenticeships.

There are organisations out there looking to help in these areas, one of which is Career Academies UK, a charity building bridges between employers and young people seeking work. The organisation does this through a programme of internships and mentoring for students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, 4,000 employee volunteers from over 1,400 organisations, both large and small, around the UK contribute time and skills to the Career Academy programme.

But, what do employers honestly think about taking on young people to work for them? And what advantages can a work experience teenager bring to your typical mortgage broking team?

At a time when most mortgage brokers are fighting to help even wealthy clients find a suitable mortgage in what is a consistently dwindling market, it might appear that many employees would be too focussed on holding down their job and juggling their workload to look after a young pupil, who is inexperienced and needs a mentor.

But, this need not be the case.

Career Academies UK recently commissioned some research, sponsored by Santander and carried out by Freshminds, to look into how employers can benefit from mentoring one of their young interns. 100 senior managers in 85 companies were consulted about their experiences of working with 16-19 year olds and the results were surprisingly positive: there are some very real benefits for businesses in taking on young people.

In short, the study identified seven key benefits for employers, which roughly divided into two groups: personal benefits to employees involved in working with young people and commercial benefits to the organisations themselves.

By engaging with young people, companies stated that they had become better connected with their communities and customers, improved their marketing to young people and opened up new talent streams. This could help the mortgage broking profession, which has previously had an issue with being able to attract and retain top talent.

75% of respondents stated professional development of the staff involved was a key benefit of engaging with young people: “We learn new skills; young people are digital natives”. As technology plays an increasingly significant role in the broker’s day-to-day business, firms should look to take on young people brought up in the digital age. This way the young people can impart their technical know-how in exchange for gaining valuable work experience.

Hear the case of Sam Johnson, for example, a Career Academy student, who spent some time with the Mortgage department of Wealth Manager, St. James’ Place. During his work experience period there, Sam gained experience in populating databases and Excel spread sheets, used Outlook to diarise the data for follow-up and also linked up the information with data management systems. Sam’s involvement provided valuable resource to allow the department to deliver the task ahead of schedule and was processed in a matter of minutes, where it could have taken an adviser a couple of days to complete. He was clearly a tremendous help to the business.

Returning to the report, 70% of those surveyed felt that increased employee morale was another reason to open their doors, an opinion shared by these businesses irrespective of their size. “Nurturing young talent is a real feel good factor, it gives us a huge boost in corporate morale,” was a comment from one particular interviewee.

So, the message is clear. Once they come to know them, employers do value young people and are struck by their enthusiasm and energy levels. What is missing is the connectivity between the two. The time has never been more important for businesses to access this untapped resource, in particular those within the mortgage industry. If attitudes don’t change we could risk losing a generation that cannot afford university and cannot find work. With one million young people out of work, employers’ perceptions of young people are a major hurdle to employment.

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