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Honing Skills: We're banking on skills
Scotland’s Skills Gateway for financial services aims ambitiously to “take the sector’s talent to world class levels”, says its chairman DAVID THORBURN in the first of a series of interviews with members of the Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board.
"Our aim,” says David Thorburn, “is to create a pipeline of talent into the financial services industry, with everyone adopting the same baseline standards at the start of their journey of professional development. It’s a country mile removed from where we are today.”
Thorburn, the UK Executive Director of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks, is the first to acknowledge how radically the world has changed since May 2008 when The Scottish Financial Services Skills Gateway, which he chairs, was launched.
Initiated by the Scottish Government in partnership with the CBI in Scotland, Scottish Financial Enterprise and this Institute, it aims to “take the sector’s talent to world class levels” by directly matching skills provision to the industry’s needs.
“In other words,” he recalls with brutal clarity, “we got motoring just before the wheels came off financial services all round the world. At that time, the sector universally was in a real growth spurt and one of the drivers for The Gateway was a critical shortage of talent being experienced by nearly all companies to cope with that growth.
“Almost immediately, we were straight into that terrible period of challenge and uncertainty which forced us all to regroup and take account of some harsh new realities. But I have to say, while the context has changed very significantly, the two key objectives certainly haven’t.”
On the supply side, he explains, it was a consistent experience of financial services providers, “in good times and bad”, that there was a need for a much simpler, more coherent engagement with public sector skills suppliers – schools, colleges, universities, skills agencies and economic development bodies.
“Having so many different public sector players, complex initiatives and multiple touch-points was making effective collaboration with employers difficult. It meant that, when it came to skills supply, everyone was paddling their own little canoe.
“That’s a shame because there was a danger that a lot of very worthwhile training and educational initiatives might be wasted. So our first task has been to simplify the access for everyone – an employer, a careers adviser, a school-leaver, a university graduate, an adult returner. Our web-based Gateway will provide a single entry point to what is a very cluttered supply-side landscape.”
Then there’s the demand side of the equation. “It’s changed, but it certainly hasn’t evaporated,” Thorburn insists. “There are still 100,000 jobs in Scotland directly or indirectly linked to financial services. Even the banks are still recruiting and are offering a mix of both good quality long-term careers, short-term working and specialist skills.”
Skills forecasting, he admits, is notoriously tricky. But that isn’t stopping his Employers Council trying to develop an outline workforce plan. “At the moment, it’s really hard to see further than about a year ahead with any precision, but we want to give some useful directional steers about the type of skills that are growing and the range of qualifications that are needed. And that’s a whole lot better than we’ve got today.”
Some signals are clear, though. “One area we all know is going to grow relates to risk evaluation and the use of credit models. On the back of the Basel II and Basel III regulatory accords, for example, all the banks are developing much more sophisticated modelling of risk. And that requires people with mathematical skills.
“In the next 3-5 years, we know this much: there will be significantly more people working in these areas than today, they’ll be highly skilled and in their organisations for a long time, so they’ll have clear career paths. We’re now trying to be more specific about the numbers and types of skills that underpin this general statement of need.”
Banks, insurance companies, fund managers, asset managers will be invited to help put flesh on the bones of a “skills demand statement” intended to make it easier for supply side organisations to plan their investments. It’s hoped that wider industry-educational collaboration will improve the understanding of career opportunities and “counter the negative career perceptions” about the sector.
With bodies like the Financial Services Skills Council and Skills Development Scotland, the Gateway team is also working closely with professional organisations like this Institute to define, describe and develop baseline professional skills for new entrants including the creation of a common ‘Introduction to Financial Services’ course.
At the root of this is a desire to inculcate the early “habit of continuous professional development”, says Thorburn. “This links directly to the Institute’s work in building a robust and resilient professional development programme, whose qualifications are genuinely ‘portable’ – relevant to and recognised by any bank in the country. It also ties closely with the Chartered Banker Professional Standards Board which has just been formed and of which I’m privileged to be a member (see Chartered Banker December issue).
“We now want to do something similar for school leavers and graduates – to agree certain baseline professional skills amongst all financial services providers as the basis of an apprenticeship for the industry. We’d like companies to sign up to a mix of formal pre-entry qualifications and work experience so that school leavers can see what this industry is like. It will improve the currently quite poor external image of the industry.
“And youngsters will get used to the idea of combining work experience with studying. They’ll start their journey through the basic banking exam and will see continuous professional development as an essential career component. The earlier we establish that mindset, the better for them and the better for the industry.”
The skills seekers
Members of the Employers Council of the Financial Services Skills Gateway:
Airdrie Savings Bank
Capital Credit Union
Lloyds Banking Group
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