Lord Hunt says the success of the CII’s careers fair gives us hope our industry can be seen in a better light

There are now some 2.3 million students in the UK. That figure continues to rise and recent months have brought the welcome appointment of a minister for students, Lord Triesman, within the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills; and also the establishment of the National Student Forum to help shape and formulate his work.

As the higher education sector expands, difficult questions will inevitably be asked. First and foremost, what are all those qualifications for? How will the young graduates of the future take advantage of three or four extra years of formal learning?

Attracting and retaining the crème de la crème of the UK graduate market is the core aim of the CII Talent Initiative – now one year old. Two weeks ago, the institute launched the first ever insurance-focused careers fair, at Manchester University, which provided an excellent insight into the views and preferences of possible future leaders of our industry.

The event was designed to change perceptions of the industry by creating an atmosphere within which diverse aspects of insurance, not normally associated with the sector by the general public, could be highlighted.

Students from across many disciplines attended, from engineering to seismology, from history to biochemistry, and undergraduates were joined by postgraduate students reading degrees as diverse as law, business and geography.

At the end of every session, a queue formed of eager students wanting to know more. Many had even brought their CVs along in anticipation. If just a handful of those young people left that day with a refreshed and improved impression of the industry, then it was all worthwhile.

As the recent Northern Rock debacle showed, trust can be lost both easily and rapidly; and there is no quick fix for regaining it.

“One of the most concerning aspects of
our presentation for students was our
failure to attract home-grown talent.
The audience predominantly consisted
of foreign students

Lord Hunt

The FSA-led debate on the retail distribution review is predominantly about fixing a system perceived as being ‘broken’, within which the consumer has felt cheated and, in many cases, been left with nothing.

This draining of confidence affects not only potential customers, but also potential employees.

One of the most concerning aspects of our presentation for students was our failure to attract home-grown talent. The audience predominantly consisted of foreign students, the progeny of emerging powers such as Russia, India, China and the African states easily outnumbering students from the UK.

Improving the professional standing of financial services remains a burning priority for all of us, along with closing the so-called skills gap between the skills base we have and the skills base we need to remain competitive.

The closely-intertwined keynote themes of my CII presidency this year are professionalism, reputation and trust; and I encourage everyone to support the CII, and any other organisations that similarly engage in a genuine, two-way conversation with the individuals who embody our own industry’s future.

Both reality and perception are crucially important and we should not rest until we are confident that our younger colleagues, in particular, feel able to hold their heads up high, as proud members of the financial services profession.