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Prioritising employee development in 2021 and beyond

By: Mark Creighton

Between unforeseen regulatory changes, ominous economic demands and a very prominent skills gap, the financial services sector has experienced challenging conditions like never before over the last 14 months. Leaders are now navigating a recovery, battling with an array of logistical and workplace challenges. But do they stand a chance with so many apparent skills shortages?

At Avado, we were interested in taking a closer look at the challenges faced by businesses in financial services. We commissioned research examining the state of the skills gap by speaking with 500 C-suite and 500 HR leaders in the UK. Following the completion of our report, called Beyond Skills, how far the gap has widened truly shocked us. 

Of all sectors surveyed, financial services experienced the bumpiest ride and were also the most likely to have prioritised survival during the pandemic. Because of this, they made significant cuts to their training budgets. Over half of executive leaders surveyed agreed that their business had prioritised survival over building capabilities, and this was even more pronounced by HR respondents (69%). What’s interesting, is that at the same time, 55% of executives felt the skills gap in their business would leave them unable to deal with future challenges. Naturally, as a learning and development provider, we were curious to understand why an industry facing so many unknowns would put at risk most needed asset.  

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As a result of this survival shift, the financial services sector is now experiencing much more than a skills gap. The failure to prioritise employee development has exacerbated the problem, moving beyond skills to a capability gap. This has left 63% of respondents concerned about the future implications of their organisation’s capability gap, who are now most likely to deem learning and development as essential to strategic decisions. This paints a portrait of strategic uncertainty from the top: 65% of respondents felt learning and development wasn’t taken seriously in the boardroom despite three-quarters wishing it had. Business leaders do seem aware of the impact a lack of capability development can have on an organisation. That then begs the question: why was the financial services sector, in particular, so quick to reduce their learning and development budgets in 2020?

There is also significant concern about the impact of a lack of capabilities on employee mental health, with 71% expressing worry about the relationship between a lack of development and their mental well being. 

For the industry to achieve sustainable growth, they must move away with short-term strategies that only place a sticky plaster on the problem, such as recruiting new talent to fill these gaps. Businesses must not underestimate the capabilities needed to fulfil the complex regulatory and operational changes in the industry. The only solution is an investment in people through training strategies that are fit for the future, sponsored by senior leaders aligned to accelerating development of their employee community. 

To remain competitive within our recovering economy, it is critical for individuals and businesses to move the conversation well beyond skills, supported by leaders that understand its value to driving sustainable growth.

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