Banking on a career in finance

8th June 2012 at 01:00
A new website aims to dispel myths about the financial sector and help young people discover what opportunities it has to offer

Few people can be unaware of the global banking crisis crippling communities around the world, and pupils and teachers here have all experienced the impact of the economic downturn in some way, through cuts at Scottish schools and colleges, friends and family losing jobs and exposure to media coverage of the changing fortunes of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

But how many people could give a precise definition of the "double-dip recession" into which the UK has slumped?

Such ignorance of economics is widespread. Of far greater concern to the industry, however, as the Scottish government seeks to resurrect the nation's financial sector, is a lack of understanding of the range of careers it provides.

Many people have developed a negative view of the banking industry, but over the past few years it has been taking steps to clean up its act.

The financial giants behind the crisis which has wiped out so many firms are also a valuable source of thousands of jobs that can help individual and worldwide recovery.

This week, pupils at Drummond Community High are set to gain greater insight into those opportunities as they start using a new website, pointedly entitled re:think.

More than 20,000 people have visited the site since it was launched last autumn at the Edinburgh school by minister for learning and skills Alasdair Allan on behalf of leading banks working with the government agency Skills Development Scotland (SDS).

Headline statements including "Not into finance? Not a problem, some of us aren't either" are illustrated with regularly updated photographs of real employees from across the sector who bring an array of jobs to life, explaining what they do, why they like it and how they got there.

Among them is Airdrie technology graduate Kristofer Leyden, 28, who is on a leadership programme at the Clydesdale Bank in Glasgow and happily admits that he could work in the financial sector for life and still "know nothing" about banks and mortgages.

"The range and scope of the work is brilliant. I work in technology and I get to work at the cutting edge of it - it's never boring," he tells potential applicants.

His advice for anyone who wants his job is simple: "Don't expect it to fall into your lap - you need to go out and get it."

The businesses behind re:think hope the website will encourage and enable more people, including school leavers, to do just that, instead of dismissing the corporate giants as the "big, bad banks" which created the chaos.

The website was created through a partnership organisation, Financial Services Skills Gateway, which has been established by industry leaders to recruit the talent needed to grow, both in Scotland and overseas.

Chief executive of the Clydesdale Bank and gateway chairman David Thorburn explains: "Creating the re:think website addressed two problems that employers in Scotland faced.

"Firstly, too many young people thought that you could only work in financial services if you were gifted with numbers and that the jobs were pretty boring. And secondly, particularly following the financial crisis, even when someone had decided that they wanted to work in the sector, there were too many people trying to put them off."

He says: "More often than not, the advice that young people were getting from their school or parents was based on a limited understanding of the sector and what careers in it were really like.

"So re:think is aimed at careers advisers and parents as much as it is at potential new recruits. It uses young people themselves to explain how varied, challenging and ultimately satisfying careers in financial services can be. For example, if you want to work in computing and IT, you don't need to go into the computer games business to be at the cutting edge of IT work. Some of the biggest investment and the greatest innovation is done in IT in financial services."

Changing negative attitudes will take time, and SDS doesn't have any figures yet to identify who is using the site or show how many pupils have gone on to work in the sector afterwards.

However, Mr Thorburn believes that understanding of the financial sector is definitely "improving" within Scotland's schools. "So far, it looks like the site has gone down well with careers advisers and over time we will see if it generates more recruits for the industry. It is certainly challenging some myths about working in the sector," he says.

"There are stimulating and exciting jobs for people of all abilities, aptitudes and interests (in Scotland's financial sector). The more we can do to showcase what these are through sites like re:think, the stronger our sector - and Scotland's economy - becomes."

Many teachers would probably admit that, regardless of their personal opinions about the sector currently, their knowledge of the wealth of jobs in finance might be fairly limited.

Drummond pupils are fortunate to have a former industry employee now teaching business education at the school.

Claire Cooper says: "I did a finance degree and worked in banking, in administrative roles with RBS before becoming a teacher and my husband was in security at RBS, so I can use a lot of my own experience to teach pupils about the business.

"They might think working in a bank is just about serving people. They are aware of marketing and PR because of the fireworks (displays at Edinburgh Castle that the bank has sponsored), but they are probably aware of these things without realising that they are," she adds.

She believes pupils have learned a great deal as a result of the crisis. "A lot of students are very aware of it. I was teaching a second year class and asking questions about what caused the crisis and how it has influenced their lives, and they talked about redundancies and people having to move house," she says.

"A lot of the terminology they don't understand yet, like recession, but they recognise RBS and they know who Fred Goodwin is - we are lucky in Edinburgh to have the RBS headquarters here."

Re:think was launched with a group of S3 pupils at Drummond Community High who had just won the latest SDS Stock Market Challenge, where youngsters compete on a mock trading floor to make money by managing virtual portfolios of shares.

"They were only just going into fourth year, so the website wasn't really appropriate at that time," says Mrs Cooper. "Our current fourth years are about to start applying for work experience, so the website should give them more of a feel for what is out there."

The site, which is for any member of the public, already allows users to click through to the recruitment sites of the different financial firms to see the latest vacancies.

Meanwhile SDS is about to incorporate re:think into its interactive careers website, My World of Work, which offers visitors a range of tools to help them improve their CV and skills.


Does money make you happy? It's really hard to say.

You need it for your mortgage, rent and every day.

You work, you earn a living to pay for food, your clothes and play.

But if you overspend, you'll rue the day.

Ending up in debt is never pretty.

Bailiffs at the door, it really is a pity.

Be careful with your cash,

save yourself a stash.

Don't get into debt, be careful how you spend.

Getting into debt can send you round the bend!"

Knox Academy pupil Amy Mead's rap spells out her musical take on the financial woes of the world.

It might not be as catchy as Abba's classic hit Money Money Money, but the message definitely fits the current reality.

This session is the first where S2 pupils at the Haddington school have been given a 10-hour personal finance course using a resource from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

MoneySense provides a range of free online activities and information on the bank's website including quizzes to help youngsters understand how to manage their money.

Robert Flood, principal teacher of technology and IT, who also coordinates 16+ learning choices for pupils at Knox Academy, says: "We asked them to produce a rap for homework in the first week as a fun start to the course, and the variety was huge.

"I think they have been pretty engaged by the course. Every second year has done it now and we have had lots of good discussions about debt, how credit and debit cards work and how to manage your money.

"It's quite interactive, looking at the process of how to take money out of the bank."

Moving up the school, S3 pupils here also take part in the annual Skills Development Scotland Stock Market Challenge, which this year involved more than 800 pupils competing to be the best in managing portfolios of virtual shares and foreign currencies.

Mr Flood is keen to expand work with S4 pupils, using resources like the new re:think website, launched by SDS and banking industry leaders last autumn to raise awareness of the wide range of jobs which the sector provides.

Asked whether pupils are keen to work in the banking industry given the ongoing crisis, he says: "I think it might make them slightly wary in terms of job security. Re:think sounds useful. The more knowledge they have will be beneficial, so that they can make informed choices."

Meanwhile he hopes to build on pupils' personal finance expertise to help ensure that as individuals they know how to budget.

Photo: Pupils role-play trade at the Stock Market Challenge


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