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Investing in skills is the key to unlocking productivity, blog by Henri Murison Chief Executive at The Northern Powerhouse Partnership Leeds

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is gathering pace in the North of England, transforming the employment landscape. Financial services, one of the key enablers of the Northern economy, is just one sector undergoing serious change.

While at one time the bulk of jobs in this sector here might have been in customer-facing or administration roles, the pivot towards automation and AI means demands are changing, requiring more digital skills alongside more traditional areas of expertise like regulatory jobs – the FCA opening their doors in Leeds for instance.

While that can deliver a much-needed boost to our productivity, it raises challenges for businesses trying to retrain. The traditional career paths of retail banks and building societies, where you could rise from entry level roles to senior leadership, are being disrupted. It must be the case that those entering as non-graduates, including those undertaking apprenticeship routes, can be just as successful.  And we need to be open to experienced talent from other sectors that have transferrable skills and capabilities that we need. The skills needs and changing nature of the business, mean modern FS firms need a diverse group of knowledgeable, multi-skilled staff.

Meeting with leaders from across the sector in Manchester recently, I was struck by the innovative ways they were tackling this issue, welcoming both early career talent and those seeking to move from other sectors. Many spoke about the need to attract people from other industries, reformulating their recruitment processes and reaching out to communities directly to challenge misconceptions about the industry. Whatever route into the sector, it is clear that, going forward, firms will need to commit investment to training and reskilling their colleagues to meet the needs of the sector.

These businesses want to tap into the potential of underrepresented groups, particularly to bolster their current and future leadership, supporting women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

We need to give them access to the education, the work relevant skills and the confidence (not to mention adequate transport infrastructure) to access the wealth of opportunity on offer in financial services. We also need serious public and private investment to upskill and reskill our existing workforce.

While this is a challenge for the whole country, there’s no denying that the North faces even bigger hurdles, with this year’s GCSE and A-Level results showing a widening North-South divide in education.

Businesses want to invest in the North but they need the guarantee of a skilled workforce.

Here our Metro Mayors and local leaders have a key role to play, helping match skills provision to local industry need.

Announcements on the ‘trailblazer’ devolution deal including for Greater Manchester are expected imminently, and all the North’s Metro Mayors have both put skills at the heart of their plans for growth.

Skills investment within businesses and by the public sector is an enabler to increasing productivity. We can’t afford to waste this opportunity.

15 December 2022