Wesley Harfield, head of sales at Investec Asset Finance, discusses the industry’s recruitment and talent retention challenge for the future

Managing talent is not just a competitive advantage; it is the fundamental requirement to the success of a business, and by extension, an industry itself.

Reports of the dearth of talent in asset finance is exaggerated. With a global sector worth more than $5 trillion, it has for a long time enjoyed a healthy flow of highly skilled professionals into its ranks. However, it is undoubtedly facing some long-term recruitment challenges that are critical to resolve, to ensure the success of the sector can be passed onto the next generation.

Many, like me, began their careers at the major banks, which were able to provide the kind of intensive training you’d expect from large financial institutions. As they scaled back their operations, the people they trained found their way to independent brokerage firms, creating the industry we see today. As it stands however, the industry is sustained by the network of expert brokers that has developed over the past 20 years or so, but many of those businesses are not set up to recruit and train the talent of tomorrow.

Apprenticeship schemes are one option to boost the talent pipeline, especially in light of recent government initiatives. In 2015/16, 143,000 people were in business, administration and law apprenticeships in 2015/16, compared with about 77,000 in 2009/10. As a sector aligned closely with the real economy, asset finance is ideally placed to use this momentum, with the ability to offer a cross-sector and UK-wide experience to younger people.

Equally, the traditional route of intensive training could be modernised to fit today’s graduate programme. Offering short rotations into asset finance teams, as part of a wider banking or management graduate scheme, is a simple way of introducing fresh talent to the sector.

We understand however, that for smaller businesses, training is expensive – they quite rightly want their staff to be productive, to the benefit of the firm and themselves. But, as many of our brokers have told us in Investec’s broker survey, training is a worthwhile investment that produces loyal staff, confident that they have a sound career path ahead of them.

Today’s business leaders are now entering the final phase of their careers, and more needs to be in place to ensure a smooth handover to the next generation. This is a career-long process and the entire industry must take responsibility.

At Investec, we are doing our bit to help. Our CPD-eligible courses on financial crime, data protection and vulnerable customers are designed to make sure our sector is up to speed with a rapidly changing environment. This, and the further challenge of growing and retaining talent, was the focus of our Annual Broker Conference this month and next year, we will be launching our broker training programme.

The success of our industry will be down to the quality of its people. If we all do our bit to bang the drum for asset finance and reward those who choose our industry, its future will be assured.