If it were possible to sum up the present state of the UK in one word, it would be “uncertainty”.
That’s for certain. But the uncertainty isn’t solely centred around the Brexit deal the government will negotiate. It’s more. Concerns about job security, businesses moving abroad, cutbacks, automation, and endless other grievances are plaguing the City job market.
Morgan McKinley’s London Employment Monitor shows that, last month, there was a 23 per cent decrease in available jobs month-on-month, and 17 per cent year-on-year. The number of professional job seekers is also falling: a 12 per cent month-on-month decrease, topped by a 38 per cent year-on-year decrease.
“Brexit has pushed institutions into two camps,” said Hakan Enver, operations director at Morgan McKinley. “On one side we’ve got the ‘business as usual’ team, and on the other we have the institutions that are tired of the government’s hemming and hawing and have already begun to move jobs to other EU countries. It’s the latter group that’s contributed to the quarter drop in jobs available.”
Unless you’re George Osborne, job prospects are narrowing. But Brexit uncertainty could also be an opportunity to retrain, or specialise.
What are the options available?
Sam Turner, risk management manager at Morgan McKinley, says that many in traditional finance are moving into nascent fields. “A lot of the quants that we work with are thinking about going into more IT focused and data-centric roles, and things relating to blockchain.”
But it’s not necessarily Brexit that’s driving the change, he says. “People are thinking about retraining, but a lot of that is because things are being moved offshore to cheaper locations, and people have their lives here – if you’re 45 with kids, you can’t uproot and go and work in Poland or India or wherever else. Your life is over here.”
Automation is also disrupting the traditional financial services industry, and Turner thinks blockchain will play a key role in facilitating it. “All the back office functions that can be automated and programmed to make a payment or settlement, or exercise a contract or similar could go. I think people are bumbling along at the moment, but in the back of their minds they’re thinking: ‘how long am I going to have a job for?’”
Brexit is, however, the word on everyone’s lips – and amid uncertainty, now is a good time to retrain or specialise, says Edward Dallas, head of employer engagement at London Business School’s (LBS) career centre. “A significant proportion of our students look to use their time at LBS as a means to switch career, whether in terms of sector, function, geography or, in a number of cases, all three. So we regularly see people moving from say, finance to consulting, or consulting to consumer or consumer to technology. We have even seen doctors become bankers and jet fighter pilots become technologists.”
LBS has seen MBA applications rise 15 per cent this year, it says, “despite” Brexit. “The labour market is always a dynamic landscape and Brexit is just one factor among many ongoing changes,” says Dallas. “Whether it is the rise of robots or the emergence of the gig economy, there are multiple factors that make the future increasingly complex.”
LBS isn’t the only school to have seen an increase in MBA applications. Oxford Said Business School has seen a 133 per cent rise from Europe, and a 65 per cent increase from the UK. Anna Farrus, head of admissions, says she “can’t say for sure that this is due to Brexit... but my instinct says that it is a factor.”
But if you’re feeling the Brexit Uncertainty Blues and fancy a career change, where should you go? “Across our programmes we have seen a growth in students going in to the technology sectors,” says Dallas. “Not just with the large firms such as Amazon or Google, but also with a range of smaller startups. Twenty one per cent of the most recent MBA class went in to that sector, most of whom were switching,” he adds.
“An obvious characteristic of uncertainty,” says Michael Smets, associate professor in management and organisation studies at Oxford Said, “is that we don’t know what the future is, so preparing in a way that makes you agile, and able to adapt depending on what the future brings, is often beneficial.”
Asked about the trend of people moving from professional and financial services to the tech sector, he says that the appeal is to be at the cutting edge. “With current geopolitical affairs and technological disruption, it’s right to consider which jobs are ‘future proof.’ If we consider the number of jobs that are going to be replaced in the not too distant future, it’s wise to train for those industries rather than for a job that is going to be redundant in a few years.”
He adds that “what an MBA does is it broadens your platform, broadens your systemic thinking about the business world. What we’re seeing in this time of uncertainty, is that it’s far more difficult to connect the dots – there’s far more dots to connect, so simply, by broadening your repertoire, you can adapt to what’s coming.”
For those considering retraining or specialising, the key is to think further ahead than the immediate benefit of satisfaction, says Dallas.
“Whatever switch they are looking to make, it is critical that candidates identify how their past experience speaks to the skills required in the sector or role that they are targeting – framing their pitch in a way that speaks to their destination rather than where they are coming from.”