Skills: The alchemy of employability?

  • 1 September 2021
  • Blog | Career Development | Leadership & Strategy | Thought Leadership Insights | Blog

The financial services sector is vital to the UK economy and needs to be sustainable across all aspects of business, says Helen Cook, Chief HR Officer, NatWest Group. Its approach to colleague development is a critical part of this. 

In the Bank of England’s 2019 Future of Finance report, it describes how the UK-based financial services sector is key to supporting the economic growth and well-being of individuals, communities, and businesses across the country. As the nation recovers from the impact of the pandemic, it is essential that our employees have the skills and capabilities required to serve and innovate for our customers. 

Two insights from the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC) were particularly compelling for me. First, the skills gap increased by 30% between 2015 and 2017. Second, 60% of financial services employees are in highly skilled roles compared with 45% in the whole economy. The skills gap is big, it’s growing and as a purpose-led organisation we have a responsibility to develop the skills of our employees, for the benefit of society, the organisation and the employees themselves. 

At NatWest we’ve developed a framework that has distilled five key capabilities we believe are essential for success now and in the future. These have been embedded into every part of the employee life cycle and have become a common language that is universally understood and supports our ambition to become a learning organisation. 

Becoming a true learning organisation requires a shift of focus and mindset. It’s about taking a dynamic approach to develop capabilities – testing ideas, learning every day by listening to and sharing our experiences with others. It’s about being curious, inquisitive and open-minded. 

This year, more than any other, we’ve had to adapt at pace and face personal and professional challenges head on. We need to support our colleagues to be fit for change and make sense of a world that’s full of digital distractions, blurred work-life boundaries, and an unrelenting backdrop of political and cultural upheaval. If the world had a Facebook status, it would be ‘it’s complicated’. 

COVID-19 has changed the game on transferable skills – many jobs are agnostic of location – which increases opportunities for individuals but also increases competition. Being purpose-led emphasises our wider responsibility to help our colleagues build their employability, whether that’s inside or outside the organisation. We’ve been honest with them about the fact that the bank and the jobs within it are changing and that there is support for them to identify opportunities and keep their skills current. 

“We need to support our colleagues to be fit for change and make sense of a world that’s full of digital distractions, blurred work-life boundaries, and an unrelenting backdrop of political and cultural upheaval.” 

Last year we launched the NatWest Academy, providing access to a wealth of curated learning resources to enable all colleagues across the bank to develop key transferable skills. For colleagues impacted by change we also launched our ‘Mobility Hub’. This provides tools to help them understand their own capabilities, gives visibility of opportunities across the bank and supports them to identify how they can use their skills outside the bank, if that’s the path they take. 

I’m really excited about a more recent initiative – Talent Marketplace. As structures have become less formal and work more fluid, we often need short-term resources to work on specific projects. Talent Marketplace enables us to offer these ‘gigs’ across the bank, based on a skills match. It’s a win-win – a new career challenge for them without the bank losing their talents, but at the end of the assignment they will have deepened their skills and broadened their perspective. 

The initiatives we have launched in NatWest go some way to helping our colleagues shape the skills they need to remain employable, but we can’t tackle this challenge alone. We need greater collaboration and a continuation of the work carried out by the FSSC. Helping the economy build back better, face a better future and supporting our colleagues to have successful career in an ever-changing world. It’s our collective responsibility.