The City thrives because it’s open to global talent: Don’t pull up the drawbridge

Alan Yarrow
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Today, many City headhunters report a continuing lack of suitable candidates for some specialist roles (Source: Corbis)
This week, the City of London will host one of the UK’s major set-piece foreign affairs events. Foreign secretary Philip Hammond and I will address all the ambassadors to the United Kingdom, and other high-level Diplomatic Corps, at the Mansion House.

Our focus is the “commercial diplomacy” that is at the heart of the UK’s international relations. As I will be saying on Wednesday, “parochialism and protectionism goes against everything that the City of London stands for.”

There are some 400,000 workers in the Square Mile – from many different backgrounds. This City is a crucible for international talent. Six countries – the US, India, China, France, Germany and Ireland – each have over 5,000 representatives working here in the City. Meanwhile, across London as a whole, people from nearly 200 countries have made their home here. We are a truly global city.

Now is not the time to pull up the drawbridge and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. As I said at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in November, with Prime Minister David Cameron at my side, this City believes in open and transparent markets. These markets function well with two driving forces – the right framework in place and the right people behind them.

During a career working across the world in capital markets and investment banking, I learned the benefits of a truly global team. I had to look overseas to build a team of high-performing derivatives experts. The best people, with the right skills, weren’t simply within commuting distance of the head office – but from India, North Africa and France.

This is not a new concept for the City. We have endured at the forefront of global business for centuries, because we have an open attitude to harnessing talent from around the world.

It goes without saying that companies need people with the requisite skillset. Today, many City headhunters report a continuing lack of suitable candidates for some specialist roles. The STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) are an area of particular concern. Not enough people are studying STEM at university or going into STEM industries. Not enough people are equipped with the skills we need for the workforce of tomorrow. And if we are not open to the widest possible pool of talent, the situation will only get worse.

Almost 150 years ago, my great-grandfather, Sir Alfred Yarrow, founded a major ship-building business employing thousands of people in Glasgow and London. He knew we needed to get out there to the emerging international markets at the time – Burma, India, Africa and South America.

He also knew that the risk-averse strategy of leaving your ship moored at harbour, instead of out there in open waters, would never turn a profit. It is this analogy that needs to drive UK plc’s thinking when it comes to our international trade, our openness to free markets, and our ability to employ the best and the brightest international talent.

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