Many young Scots “lack skills” needed to work in financial sector

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THE poor calibre of many new school leavers and graduates is threatening the future of Scotland’s £7.3bn-a-year financial services industry.

Young Scots are struggling with numeracy, communication and problem-solving skills, according to research by a leading industry body.

Alan Thornburrow: Research found lack of skills needed for financial workplace

Even more basic problems, such as poor dress, bad timekeeping and a “what’s in it for me?” culture, emerged in the study.

Alan Thornburrow, chief executive of Scottish Investment Operations (SIO), warned the skills gap could undermine the growth of financial services north of the border.

SIO represents major players such as Standard Life Investments and Scottish Widows Investment

Partnership.

The industry in Scotland manages funds worth £650bn and employs 90,000 people, each of whom produces on average over £81,000 a year.

But Thornburrow said Scotland was not producing skilled school leavers and graduates in sufficient

numbers to keep its place “at the forefront of global advance”.

He said: “The industry’s importance to the country’s capacity for wealth creation cannot be overestimated.

“Research by SIO highlighted concerns that a lack of employability skills was one of the main barriers to recruiting and retaining new staff.

“Employers said there were particular problems with numeracy and communication with problem solving and lack of initiative also highlighted as areas of concern.”

Thornburrow said major businesses reported “a deterioration of general work-readiness among new entrants”. Some candidates exhibited a poor attitude towards their work, and failed to work effectively in teams and to share responsibility, he said.

“A lack of understanding of the culture of the workplace was also reported, including inappropriate work dress, poor time keeping and attendance and a lack of flexibility on employer requirements,” he added.

“A ‘what’s in it for me’ culture rather than a ‘what can I do to help the company’ was mentioned in the employer focus groups,” said Thornburrow.

A view that the expectations set at university were “unrealistic” also emerged in the research.

Thornburrow said: “Students had the highest self belief in their worth but often failed to contribute effectively to their employer which hindered their career progression. Their attitudes were often characterised as ‘but I’m a graduate, I should be doing more than this’.”

The research involved 24 financial service companies and four recruitment agencies. They included big names such as Abbey, Aviva, Clydesdale Bank, Barclays Wealth, RBS, and Tesco Bank.

Each employer filled in an online questionnaire to identify key issues which was then followed up with face-to-face interviews.

Thornburrow added that no-one in the industry was seeking to assign blame but to find a solution to the problem.

Last year SIO, in partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and the Ch

artered Institute of Bankers in Scoitland, introduced the first professional qualification for investment accountants.

It is now being rolled out globally, said Thornburrow. From later this year, a distance learning version of the course, administered in Edinburgh, will be taken by investment industry professionals in the rest of the UK, Europe, India and China.

“Among the ideas being proposed are internships for students in financial services companies so they can get real work experience at the same time as they are studying theory,” he said.

And a “crash course” for graduates has been introduced to give them the “basic knowledge needed to work in the sector”.

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