From education to employment

Corporate Social Responsibility and The Skills Gap: Equal Opportunities Education

Andreas Karaiskos, CEO, Fitch Learning

Closing the Skills Gap in Financial Services 

The future success of the financial services industry is going to be heavily reliant on business leaders, HR and L&D managers working well together to find innovative ways to address the current global skills gap in our sector. More so than ever before, as a direct result of this current pandemic, financial businesses are in the spotlight and need to show that they can and are willing to invest in their people to create operational resilience, drive maximum efficiency and build growth.

As part of their investment strategies, it is crucial for firms to demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens by hiring new talent that is truly representative of their customers, drawn from a wide range of diverse backgrounds and from across all sectors of society.  One of the cornerstones for firms to actively address the skills shortage and close this gap is to take a closer look at their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.

The Vital Link between CSR and Employability

Financial services firms need to put effective CSR programmes in place now to ensure that young people can develop exactly the right mix of skills they need to not only obtain access to future employment opportunities in our sector, but can secure key entry positions in this industry that will lead to successful, rewarding careers in their chosen profession.

The real problem is that our schools and universities are extremely dedicated to helping students acquire the knowledge and skills they need in specialist financial areas over a fixed term as part of an  academic course, but employability skills often fall outside of their expertise, or there is a gap between the skills they teach and the need in business. However, we can’t look to mainstream education to provide what businesses need. The reason for this is that these institutions are often too disconnected from the day-to-day evolution of skills that the corporate sector demands for continued success. Neither, should they bear the brunt of the work. It’s up to our firms to look beyond the obvious – all companies should work to exponentially build the talent pool, adding to it through investment of resources (such as financial investment programmes, volunteer initiatives and in-kind giving schemes) rather than just taking from it, as financial services firms are so often accused of doing by industry observers.

The challenge is that Government funding for such employment and education schemes is currently very limited. There are many young people that desperately need and deserve our support, but there simply isn’t enough money to go around to help those furthest from the job market develop the right mix of skills and employability to gain the correct levels of access to entry level training or junior roles that will allow them to contribute positively to society.

We need to do much more as firms to address these sectors of society and the people are vast in type from ex-offenders and those trying to escape gang culture to young carers, who have been so busy looking after others that their own schooling has been left behind. Refugees, the homeless, women, those with mental health issues and physical disabilities…the list goes on and the reasons given for the lack of opportunities are lengthy. Banks such as Santander, with its recently launched, Employ Autism Higher Education Network and Barclays LifeSkills partnerships, are thankfully leading the way to create fairer opportunities for some of these young people to gain the skills necessary to compete for jobs.

The Right Future Workforce – Tackling Unconscious Bias

The Financial Services Commission, an independent industry-led commission, is working hard with the UK Financial Services Sector to ensure that it has the talent and skills it needs for the future. It is bringing together industry, government and the education sector to overcome the sector’s skills gap and increase the recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce, but much more still needs to done to get the right blend and balance of employees in place at firms from the start to make a real difference in practice.

Fitch Learning held an industry-wide event recently, Minds & Machines – The Road Back! Addressing the Skills Gap in Financial Services, which threw a real spotlight on the skills gaps in the existing workforce that need resolution, and uncovered some of the most pressing CSR and upskilling issues that the financial services industry needs to address during the next decade and beyond. An Insights Report summarising the key findings is going to be published shortly and will be available on our website.

Recently publicly available research from PWC also shows that upskilling is imperative for financial services firms now, because the industry is changing so rapidly that we must build the right skills for our organisations to continue to compete in the future. However, it’s crucial for firms to recruit the right range of talent for change both now and in the future to get the best out of people, and some experts have highlighted the risks of ‘unconscious bias’ in job interviews. Simply put, many employers may still be basing their hiring decisions on factors other than who is best for the job rather than adopting an all-inclusive approach.

The Role of CSR in Business Today

CSR has a key role to play in business today and firms need to ensure that both their senior leaders and employees are adopting inclusive mindsets and can actively demonstrate these behaviours. By hiring employees from different perspectives and backgrounds from the start financial services firms can add real value to their businesses in the longer term.

Millennials and incoming Generation Z employees are looking to their employers to add more value to their lives than more established, traditional hires. Today’s new joiners and incoming Generation Alpha school leavers, apprentices and graduates will all want to see flourishing CSR programmes investing into the community, supporting and upskilling those from less privileged backgrounds, and offering equal access to opportunities, so it isn’t just good for society tomorrow to boost skills and increase equality, it’s also good for business today.

ESG is Transforming the Financial Services Industry

Covid-19 is currently rewriting the rules for good corporate governance and offering a great opportunity for financial services firms to implement CSR strategies that can bring a renewed sense of purpose and connection for their current and future employees, customers and shareholders. This is because the focus on racial inequality and social injustice brought to the fore during the pandemic has placed a stronger emphasis on exactly what it means to be a good corporate citizen.  The ability to meet governance business imperatives is also directly impacting upon the goodwill value of every firm’s reputation.

An industry commentator recently said that Millennials are interested in using investment as a vehicle to produce wealth and a positive impact to society. This is different to traditional thinking and is already playing out in the form of ESG, CSR and impact investing initiatives. So, many more learning initiatives and education programmes need to be put in place to empower and educate disadvantaged young people about investment and ESG, such as The BVCA & Impetus Partnership.  Fitch Learning has started to offer a one day certificate course in The Fundamentals of ESG Investing this year as part of its ongoing commitment to educating young financial professionals.

Representative Role Models

Young people from all walks of life who are entering the financial services industry also need positive role models to look up to as part of their education influencers with similar backgrounds, and mentors with likeminded attitudes.

However, according to recent research from Ruebik and Operation Black Vote, there are no black executive directors in FTSE 100 financial services firms, and a recent article in the FT also cited that more work needs to be done to level the race playing field.

When it comes to gender, the recent Women in Financial Services report 2020 by Oliver Wyman found that the industry is finally making progress on gender diversity in the workforce. Many firms are now actively evaluating the diversity of women’s experiences as part of their CSR programmes and top universities, such as Imperial College Business School are also running Women In Finance Master’s Programmes.

Discovering our Hidden Talents

Financial services firms will create big win-win opportunities for their employees, customers and shareholders if they can work in tandem with equal opportunity policy makers, educational institutions and the government to create an inspiring variety of education schemes and training initiatives now for young school leavers and graduates now as part of their CSR programmes.

Our businesses need to be more committed to catering for people from a much wider range of diverse and currently under-represented backgrounds if we are going to get the balance just right in our future workforces. At Fitch, we have put in place a Young Learners Series for 2020/21 to encourage young people to gain exactly the right blend of insights from experienced professionals and information they need to find a career in the financial services sector. Our latest webinar, Young Learners: Making the Right Choice – Apprenticeships for Schools Leavers will be held on Friday 20th November from 18:00 – 19:00pm.

If we can become more finely tuned and adopt an inclusive approach by putting in place the correct blend of knowledge, skills and competencies for every individual, then we will not only create a more level playing field,  but may well discover the hidden talents who will make the real difference for our future generations.

Kerry McNally, Head of CSR, The Fitch Group and Andreas Karaiskos, CEO, Fitch Learning

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