CEO of The National Skills Academy for Financial Services
Apprenticeships are a good route into financial services because employers in the sector are now looking to broaden their skills base and diversify their intake.
The financial services industry is changing rapidly, with digital technology affecting the way services are demanded by the public. This means that the sector needs a broader range of skills — which is good news for anyone considering a financial services (FS) apprenticeship, says Peter Pledger CEO of The National Skills Academy for Financial Services, the employer-led training and development charity.
Traditionally, financial services companies used only to recruit from universities; and, in some cases, only from very particular universities at that. “That model is changing quite dramatically because, at every level, there is a need to up-skill,” says Pledger. “Coupled to that are very real changes in regulation and ethos within the sector. So the employers we deal with on a regular basis are looking to diversify their intake and broaden their skills base, and one way of doing that is through apprenticeships.” This means that apprenticeships are now available at all levels and in all skills across the FS industry — for example, banking, providing financial advice and insurance.
Employers like these schemes because they can mould an apprentice to their way of working; while apprentices like them because they get to earn while they learn and bypass thousands of pounds of university debt. “Although I wouldn’t want anyone to take the apprenticeship route because of the financial argument — although it is a powerful one,” says Pledger. “I want people to take apprenticeships because they are convinced — as I know employers are convinced — that this is the best route into the industry, to get the qualifications they need and to quickly progress in their careers.” Pledger stresses that young people, and their parents, need to realise that an apprenticeship is not a ‘second best’ option. “The quality of the training, the opportunities available and the ability to earn while they learn matches the opportunities available via a degree,” he says.
Would-be apprentices need to stand out from the crowd by demonstrating a good attitude and a flexibility and willingness to adapt. “It’s an old adage but it’s true,” says Pledger. “People can train for skills, but attitude is important. If someone has a good attitude they can do anything within this industry.”
So what does a financial services employer get from an apprentice that they might not get from a graduate? “It’s not one instead of the other,” cautions Pledger. “There are excellent graduates who come into financial services. But for an employer looking for someone who can adapt quickly to meet change in demand, then an apprenticeship is the way forward. And the key benefit from the apprentice’s point of view is that from day one they are in the workplace, learning about the culture of the organisation and how to deal with customers.” Pledger believes that financial services apprenticeships will expand and grow in future. “I think we’ll also get more cross-trained individuals who will be able to move around the industry, because it is converging as well as developing,” he says.