“When I grow up, I want to be a… finance director,” are perhaps not the words you would expect to burst from the mouths of most 16 to 24 year-olds. So Financial Director is as encouraged as it is unsure about The Financial Services Skills Council’s (FSSC) call to finance directors that they visit schools and colleges to impart on students the merits of a career in finance or accountancy.
I met with its chief executive Liz Field last week and left wondering how she was going to make this happen. Yes, FDs often find it hard to shake off the clichéd idea that they are doing the world’s most boring job and at Financial Director we meet FDs on a very regular basis who smash that idea. But the message that becoming an FD is an exciting, varied, often international career with great pay prospects – which is what FSSC chief executive Liz Field wants to promulgate – carries a high risk of falling on very deaf ears. And we can’t image that many FDs volunteering a morning or afternoon in a comprehensive in Kent to rouse pre-pubescent interest in profit and loss accounts or IFRS.
But Field wants FDs to lead a charge of senior professionals from those professions into the UK’s educational institutions as part of a larger effort to maintain competitiveness – something that has been under serious fire amid recession – and to get them to play their part in upping excellence in the field of finance. Most of us have heard the statistics around ever-decreasing numeracy among British schoolchildren and Field hopes FDs can encourage schools and students to engage with those basic skills, and that in turn that will create a generation of people who could both do well in and enjoy a career in finance or accountancy.
For sure, banking and financial services is probably better known to students after the recession and amid the talk of Fat Cat Bankers than it was before. But that doesn’t mean younglings will want to make their riches in that world. Getting new entrants into these professions has always been challenging, even before the financial crisis. Many of the roles in finance – though stimulating and rewarding to the right individual – are unheard of by young people and by their nature are harder to grasp than, say, becoming a footballer or the next Jordan. But with one in five 16-25 year olds in the UK now out of work, Field hopes that the time is right to present finance and accounting as an opportunity to students who will shortly be thrust into the world of work while there are few jobs on offer.
So ask yourself the question: is there more that you, as an FD, could be doing to attract a new generation into your profession? And is there any benefit to giving up your time and effort to achieve such an end? In both cases the answer is probably yes.
By imparting your experience, FDs could help future entrants better understand the breadth of opportunities available; and hearing from an insider about entry routes and the skills and attributes employers look for gives colour to what can otherwise (I can just about recall this far back) be the very most dull conversations, the mandatory meeting with the school careers advisor.
And secondary school level people are not irrelevant to your own team-building needs when you think about KPMG’s recent push to pay for school-leavers to gain a degree through Durham University while working on their entry-level scheme. KPMG will pay entrants’ university fees and housing costs over four years split between studying and working at the Big Four firm. If it’s not too junior for KPMG, it might be worth you thinking about where you get your finance team’s talent from and what you can do to shape that talent before it turns up at your office door unable to add up.