By Sheila Flavell CBE, COO at FDM Group

Graduate schemes offer a fantastic way for university graduates to access on-the-job training, mentorship, and the opportunity to develop existing skills. Despite their appeal, they frequently underdeliver on expected training and development, failing to equip graduates adequately for workplace success.

Graduate Schemes in the Financial Sector

In the financial sector, graduate schemes span two to three years, offering recent graduates industry exposure, professional growth, and a pathway into finance. However, new research by FDM reveals several shortcomings that must be addressed for these schemes to fulfil their intended potential.

A recent survey of 250 decision-makers from UK financial institutions revealed that 64 per cent of FinTech companies experience graduate attrition within their schemes. Conducted by independent polling agency Censuswide, the research assessed skill and diversity levels in the finance sector, shedding light on the landscape of graduate programmes.

35 per cent of employees working within financial institutions disclosed that their organisation currently offers limited graduate schemes, pointing towards the lengthy time required to train new staff.

Without the necessary training and support that graduate schemes are intended to provide, young people will be held back from successfully entering the financial sector which could lead to them exploring alternate sectors, as well as having an under-skilled financial workforce.

Current Issues for Women in Graduate Schemes

The UK is said to be leading the way in diversity, equity and inclusion, with 42 per cent of their financial sector boardrooms being female. However, 74 per cent of workers polled believed that grad scheme applications were male-dominated.

The significant gender imbalance in grad scheme participation reveals a worrying trend of declining female representation and retention in the financial sector. Moreover, 70% of respondents indicated that their organisations don’t prioritise Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), treating it as an afterthought instead. This is noteworthy, as 87% of surveyed employees believe increased diversity would benefit their organisations. Failing to foster diversity restricts the talent pool, impeding diverse hires, knowledge exchange, fresh viewpoints, and innovative ideas.

A lack of diversity also affects employee experience. While grad schemes have high drop-out rates, another key problem is their accessibility. Companies tend to hire from a select pool of universities that eliminate many qualified applicants from even joining the scheme.

These schemes also have a reputation for including long and variable hours that make them very hard to pursue for graduates fresh out of university, often being extremely demanding and inflexible.

Organisations within the financial sector need to adjust and rethink their grad schemes, recruiting from different pools of individuals, being more flexible to allow more employees the chance to succeed professionally and offering support towards personal needs.

Looking Forward

Despite numerous examples of grad schemes’ shortcomings, the polling research did yield some positive results. For example, 86 per cent of workers believe that their organisation routinely promotes graduates.

Regular promotions and recognition will help to increase retention on graduate schemes allowing a diverse and happy workforce to be developed from the ground up.

While promotions are encouraging, without a diverse intake of graduates, C-suite positions will continue to be filled with like-minded individuals, rather than diverse perspectives essential for the industry’s growth.

Over 81 per cent of respondents said there is female representation in the C-Suite at their organisations, depicting some positive progress towards a more gender-equal sector, and practices that bring in new talent must continue to support this upward trend.

Providing upskilling or reskilling chances can effectively boost job satisfaction and retention, particularly when graduates seek additional expertise. Notably, over 91% of respondents said their organisation offered such opportunities.

Graduate schemes offer a vital gateway into the financial sector, bolstering it with a skilled workforce. Yet, barriers persist, hindering equal and effective student participation. Recognising exclusivity and adopting improved DE&I measures can pave the way for an inclusive future. This shift not only brings skilled labour to the industry but also invites diverse candidates who contribute innovative and creative perspectives.

About the author

Sheila Flavell CBE is President of techUK, a member of the UK Government’s Digital Skills Council, Chief Operating Officer, and an Executive Board Director of FDM Group. She has spent 31 years operating within the international IT space and continues to advise Government committees on improving the digital skills shortage and gender pay gap in the UK.

As a ‘woman returner’ who has had to overcome several challenges in her working life, she is passionate about enhancing diversity, equality, fairness, and inclusivity within today’s workplace. She is also immensely proud of FDM’s achievement in attaining a zero gender pay gap every year since reporting was introduced. Sheila understands the importance of being a strong role model and mentor for women looking to progress their career in tech.