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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Soapbox: Careers and talent

With university fees set to increase in 2012 and the continued uncertainty of the economic outlook, many students will be questioning whether university is the right choice for them and perhaps scrutinise more closely their options following GCSEs and A-levels. As employers, we have a duty to invest in future generations, not only in providing them with opportunities, but also to help them navigate the choices. There is a responsibility businesses shoulder to give students enough guidance to help them make an informed choice, both in joining a company and offering career guidance as they progress. The focus must now be on thinking differently about recruitment schemes and development programmes for new employees.

In light of recent developments, many businesses are doing just that, offering school-leavers new paths to entry and qualification, in addition to the traditional graduate route. It starts as early as school age, arming career counsellors with information to help guide students. The student must firstly question if what they want to do requires a degree or whether their time is better spent starting a career straight after school.

Employers must educate students on the different ways they can join their business, as although the company may be well known among peers and within the market, students may not be so familiar with the types of opportunities and career options available.

Students must also work just as hard to educate themselves about employers. There are many ways to do this — for example, at university they can visit careers fairs and attend skills sessions and talks sponsored by employers. Engagement early on with employers and careers advisors can be the best way to match their skills to a future career. Meeting existing employees is also an excellent way to get to understand the culture of an organisation.

Recent headlines report a decline in graduate employment, which has deterred students from applying for jobs. But there is always a place for good talent. Students should continue to be optimistic and commit to networking and researching.

Once a student has navigated the job search and successfully found employment, it is the duty of both the employer and the employee to ensure success. It is recommended for employees to explore learning options available both in the classroom and on the job. Many organisations offer a wide range of curriculums, spanning from support for qualifications to self-guided e-learning courses. The opportunities for ongoing learning are immense. Seeking a coach or a mentor to help guide them can be extremely beneficial to the employee. Someone who is knowledgeable about the organisation and their offerings can be an invaluable resource.

The need to set short and long-term goals and being able to prioritise cannot be overstated. A career map, structured either through an organisation’s performance management process, or simply done on a personal level, should provide an employee with the skills and experiences they need to develop. It will also ensure that people focus on their career and actively manage their development.

Career development opportunities exist for all people across all disciplines and should be commonplace among businesses. If people feel undervalued and different from their peers at work, then they will not be encouraged to work to their best ability. Movement within a company will always benefit the business as it allows people to pick up different skills and get an in-depth knowledge of key business issues and messages, which they can put into practice in their client interactions.

Another important factor for success in business is having the ‘soft skills’ that can be used within the workplace. Examples of ‘soft skills’ are working as a part of a team, being able to talk and communicate with others, managing and motivating teams and being able to interact with people outside of your direct team. Gaining work experience or simply being a member of a club at school or university can all help to develop these skills before they are needed at an employment level. On-the-job training and mentoring helps employees build these important skills throughout their career.

Finally, businesses must be aware that students straight from school or college are often the most eager and enthusiastic, and are willing to put in the hard work to progress upwards on the career ladder. This enthusiasm can be put to good use within the workplace and should be captured early on!


Paul Stephenson is a partner in the Financial Services Audit division of Deloitte. He is also the UK graduate recruitment partner and has responsibility for the firm’s Bright Start school-leaver programme.