Monday 16 January 2017 5:17 am

Brexit and beginners: Why the City must step up and support the next generation

The City of London Corporation hosted its annual London Government Dinner last week.

Central to the event was the topic of Brexit, in which the London mayor Sadiq Khan was vocal on how devolution would play a critical role in supporting Britain’s capital after Brexit. The lord mayor’s speech covered a different but equally important issue; his focus was to shine a light on the importance of apprenticeships in London. Although the two may at first seem to have little common ground, there is more similarity than one might think. Both are a priority for government and both have the potential to shape Britain’s future.

Apprenticeships are a great way to provide young people with the skills that employers are looking for, but there is a more significant purpose behind them. Currently, there is a disconnect between the skills needed to fill important roles in financial services and the number of people wanting to work in the sector who have the necessary skills.

It is important that social backgrounds should not determine career success, and it is in everyone’s interest to level the playing field for the future workforce. Meritocracy, as opposed to aristocracy, is key. Offering paid internships, for example, means a company can attract young talent from all walks of life, not just those who can afford to work for free.

Firms across the Square Mile are doing their utmost to appeal to young and promising talent. For example, the City Business Traineeship, run by brokerage Citylink, has so far supported 1,400 state school students from some of London’s most deprived areas into prestigious paid internships in the City and Canary Wharf. Last week, Deutsche Bank – Germany’s largest bank, which has a big presence in London and Birmingham – announced it would use social media channels to entice those who might not have traditionally applied for a bank job, but that would be well-suited to the role. Such measures are a must for financial and professional services firms: with the exponential rise of digital and tech, talented youngsters now have an abundance of job opportunities in other lines of work.

The City of London Corporation also recently launched a report on youth unemployment – a subject which remains a real challenge in London. The City’s Business is a guide which highlights the vital role that City institutions play in reducing youth unemployment in London.

While many schools and businesses are indeed addressing these challenges, more work must be done to raise awareness of skilled jobs and how young people can secure them. Pupils also need more frequent exposure to the workplace so they understand the practical and “real life” application of their studies. For business engagement to be meaningful, it needs to start early, so young people are aware of future opportunities and the skills they will need to succeed.

This means not just focusing on academic achievement, but working with schools and colleges through mentoring, careers fairs or workplace taster sessions to help young people develop the relevant skills that will give them a head start.