Stephanie Burras: How engaging with young talent can bridge the skills gap

Professional and financial services firms need diversity of talent in order to ensure their ongoing success and relevance.

Stephanie Burras CBE of the Ahead Partnership Picture: James Hardisty

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>The leader who aims to help young people achieve their potential >How women in Leeds Digital is acting as a showcase for the future This message came through loud and clear when we spoke to more than fifty industry representatives at two recent events, to launch our new industry skills initiative, #FinProLCR.

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Long gone are the days when only graduates are able to get their foot in the front door of a law firm or ‘big four’ accountants. Exciting apprenticeship schemes are now being created across the sector, and not just by the industry giants. Firms of all sizes are realising the benefits of engaging with young talent, in the communities in which they operate. It’d be all too easy to put this down to a tick-box CSR exercise, but the reality is that businesses are seeing the benefits. For employers, working with young people from a range of backgrounds can help them to ensure their future workforce reflects the true diversity of the surrounding community.

Stephanie Burras of the Ahead Partnership

The Leeds City Region has rightly made a name for itself in financial and professional services. Indeed, it has long been heralded that the City of Leeds is home to the largest finance district outside of London, therefore, we have a responsibility to lead the way on developing the skills that young people will need today, in order to fit into a modern business.

What #FinProLCR is seeking to harness is the power of collective action. One firm dedicating a couple of employee days a year is commendable, but the impact is multiplied when the sector is able to work together. Administration challenges can be addressed, best-practice followed and, more importantly, we can make a real impact in the lives of young people. As a city, we have a responsibility to our youth– we can’t continue to rely on graduate’s moving here, and there is a pool of talent readily available from closer to home.

Through our interaction with businesses, it’s clear to see the increasing difficulties they face in attracting the young people needed to fill high-skilled roles. Research conducted by Robert Half Financial Services last year found that nearly half (49%) of senior leaders in the financial services sector see finding skilled candidates as the biggest challenge over the next twelve months, demonstrating the importance of both attracting and retaining talented employees within the sector.

In response to this only a coordinated approach to addressing the skills gap will do, in order to do the finance and professional services sectors justice. There is proof that business engagement with schools has tangible benefits on a number of levels. From our own independent research, 97% of students feel that they came away from such activities with improved self-confidence and belief in themselves. Meanwhile, the case for businesses engaging for their own self-good was made, with every company who took part reporting that their engagement level with the community in which they operate improved. This combined with the fact that 95% of business sector participants reported that the initiatives improved their own personal motivation, with a large majority reporting it made them feel more committed to their employer.

The finance and professional services sectors have come a long way in recent years. My background as a partner in a major law-firm has given me a good personal and professional understanding of these changes and it’s fantastic to see the likes of Pinsent Masons, Barclays, CYBG and PwC embracing the scheme. However, it’s not just the biggest firms coming together for the common good, SMEs such as Ison Harrison, Gilbanks, Border to Coast and Gunner Cooke LLP have also signed up, to name just a few.

Our activities on this new initiative, and the interest we’ve seen to date, has been testament to the energy and enthusiasm for change within this city. Those who have come on board have proven that change must be welcomed, and that whatever the size of a business, it can make a real impact to the communities in which it operates.

This scheme is not intended to displace any of the excellent engagement activities that employers already have underway however, there are some things that the sector can do more effectively if it acts together. A collaborative careers programme across all areas of the financial and professional services sector allows employers to raise their appeal amongst young people, whilst connecting with a diverse group of potential recruits, something which the sector really needs. Seeing the reaction to date has been really fulfilling for myself and our team at Ahead Partnership – a strong indication of what can be achieved if we work together.