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Future-proofing skills in financial services: a call to arms

By Tania Bowers, Head of Public Affairs at The Association of Professional Staffing Companies

It’s no secret that financial services is facing a worrying dearth of talent in the UK. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the Financial Services Skills Taskforce – which was launched in June 2018 by the then Chancellor to ensure the sector is prepared to meet long-term skills needs – revealed that urgent action was needed to address the growing shortage of talent within the financial services arena. The report referred to the fact that the already skills-short field faces further recruitment challenges post-Brexit, given that 17% of London’s FS industry workforce is from the EU. And while technology is allowing some elements of finance roles to be automated, the fact that digital talent in the UK is also scarce makes the need for access to wider talent pools critically important.

A flawed system

However, it would appear that the Government’s post-Brexit plans aren’t set up to support this. In the proposed Immigration Bill, the points-based system that’s been suggested is, I’m sorry to say, flawed, and could have a detrimental impact on the resources available to the financial services arena. As it currently stands, the Bill has the potential to block or deter contractors coming to the UK for work as it offers no dedicated visa route for independent professionals. As most of us are already aware, freedom of movement has so far allowed these experts being hired from the EU to work in skills-short sectors to support British businesses. Crucially, these individuals have previously been allowed to operate with complete flexibility without being bound to one specific role.

Under the new bill, these independent professionals would need sponsorship from an employer under the Tier 2 general visa in order to work in the UK. For those seeking contract work in financial services, this wouldn’t be a viable option as neither recruitment firms nor umbrella companies are allowed to be sponsors – a solution that APSCo is continuing to lobby for.

Home grown talent

Aside from the ability to bring in much-needed talent from overseas, initiatives such as apprenticeships and training schemes are certainly being pushed in the sector in a bid to develop ‘home grown’ talent. And while it’s reassuring to see employers across financial services and the Government driving training strategies to encourage more people to choose a career in the sector, I’d argue that many of the training schemes available are also flawed.

With so many people in the UK facing potential redundancy and many others on furlough, there is a real opportunity to re-train these individuals and attract them into the sector. But current schemes simply aren’t enabling this. One example of this is the lack of flexibility around the use of the Apprenticeship Levy which could be broadened to help re-skilling opportunities to facilitate the ‘skills pivot’ we will need to get people back to work. Currently the scheme can only be used to upskill employees on formal apprenticeship programmes so agency workers are excluded and the levy can’t be used for shorter term training, which would certainly have been useful during furlough.

Taking action today

While the on-going pandemic is certainly a concern for employers across financial services, Brexit is only just around the corner and a no-deal scenario is looking more and more likely. The issues surrounding resourcing challenges in financial services will likely be exacerbated further unless we lobby government to ensure the sector has access to top talent from overseas. Without a post Brexit immigration system or an expedited visa process for highly skilled, self-employed professionals, the industry will be missing out on valuable talent pools that will be critical to growth post-Coronavirus. But it will take all of us working together to truly be heard by decision makers.