Adrian Raftery says there has been a noticeable increase in the number of financial planning firms engaging with Deakin University, wanting to make sure they have a chance of hiring graduates from Deakin’s financial planning program.
Raftery, a senior lecturer in financial planning and superannuation and an associate director of Deakin’s Centre of Banking and Superannuation, says that as new education standards loom into view, including a requirement that from 2019 all new entrants to the profession possess a relevant tertiary degree,
employer interest is hotting up. He likens it to the AFL pre-season draft.
“We’ve noticed an increase in employers dealing with us, because they know 2019 is getting closer,” Raftery says. “Having someone with a bachelor’s degree, they’ll need to try to get them before the draft rather than waiting until the actual draft in 2019, because they may lose them.”
While employer interest is increasing, the output of the nation’s tertiary institutions won’t match demand for new financial planners. This situation may get worse in coming years if, as is predicted, significant numbers of older financial planners opt to leave the industry in the face of onerous new education requirements.
Alisdair Barr (pictured), founder and principal of GradMentor, which specialises in helping financial planning graduates find employment, says graduates emerging from universities can afford to be fussy about the employer they choose.
Smart employers have already made their businesses “graduate-ready”, putting in place systems and processes to provide clear career paths, regular performance reviews and appraisals and, crucially, training and ongoing education structures. The simple fact is that a student straight out of university, like the number-one draft pick in the AFL in any given year, is far from the finished article.
It’s a persistent point of contention among employers as to how well universities can and should prepare graduates for the real world.
Mark Brimble, Professor of Finance and deputy head (teaching and learning) in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Griffith University, says both sides have to have realistic expectations and both have to be prepared to play a specific role.
“The term ‘work-ready’ is quite a painful one, in the sense that some employers think, for example, and particularly those that may not have had dealings with graduates before, that it means they should be able to come in, start talking to clients from day one, run their own book – they see it as analogous to picking up someone out of an existing practice, although expecting they will be a little bit greener,” Brimble says.
“Unfortunately, some students think the same thing as well. There’s a whole piece on expectations management. It’s a flow in both directions – the students as well as the employers.”
Brimble says no other profession expects a graduate to be the finished item from day one.
“I don’t like to think of it as we have them for three years and then suddenly we hand them over to industry and something magic happens and they turn from student into a practitioner from day dot,” he says.
“Indeed, when you look at all the other professions, none of them work that way.
“There is a transition period that could include a rotation system where they are going through different parts of the business. There’s usually some form of post-degree professional training – the CPA program; the lawyers do the graduate diploma; medical students are usually doing their study along the way with their practicum, and the same with teachers.”
Defined in conjunction with industry
Raftery says a university’s focus is on ensuring students meet its graduate learning outcomes. And these outcomes are often defined in conjunction with industry.
“We have our own advisory board and we ask them, ‘what do you consider of the eight learning outcomes are most important?’” he says.
Raftery says internships also play an important role in making graduates ready for employment.
“We encourage employers to offer 10- or 11-week programs to our students, to give them a chance. I ask of them two things. One is if they can go through from go to whoa with a student in preparing a statement of advice, from the initial meeting and initial collection of data, processing all that information, and coming up with a strategy, preparing the statement of advice, presenting the statement of advice and implementing the advice.
“In terms of putting together the SoA and the strategywe would encourage them to get the students involved in that.
“And then also, review advice. That’s an existing client, 12 months down the track; let’s have a review of your portfolio and what’s involved there. So the first one – a brand new client with a statement of advice – covers financial planning process steps one to five; and review client is step six and then going through from one through to five again.”
Raftery says one of Deakin’s graduate learning outcomes is self-management – including the ability to identify gaps in knowledge or expertise, and the steps needed to plug those gaps. He says students are encouraged to conduct “gap analysis” throughout their degree, to ensure when they complete their studies they’re as complete and well-rounded as possible.
Brimble says the best approach is “work-integrated learning”, which makes it clear there is a shared responsibility between educators and industry to produce the best possible graduates.
“The educators need to do more than they might have done in the past – but indeed, a lot of them are doing it now – to make sure the students have got sound technical skills … and that they have a more rounded profile in terms of the soft skills.
They understand legal duties, they understand the basis of client interactions, and all the different roles.
“I put it into three buckets, from the student’s point of view: professional awareness, professional identity, and then some professional experience as part of their degree.
“What we know from the literature and the experience … is it works far better for all involved, for a whole range of reasons, when industry effectively partners with the university to provide some of those things. And by industry I mean licensees, actual practitioners, the professional bodies, and so forth … having systematic means of contact with the universities and the students.
“If we’re going to get super-serious about employability or work-readiness, then it’s a shared responsibility to get that high level of an outcome. It produces a ‘better’ graduate in terms of being work-ready, as most planners or business owners would think of it. But it also creates a more engaged and motivated student with higher self-efficacy and it creates a feedback loop to their learning.”
Small businesses not disadvantaged
Barr says small businesses are not necessarily at a disadvantage to larger ones if they are smart and can think creatively about how to give a graduate a structured exposure to different aspects of the financial planning process and the financial planning business.
He says hiring a graduate should be seen as a way of freeing up the firm’s revenue generators to generate more revenue. Over time, the graduate will also begin to generate revenue.
“What are the things that the revenue generators are spending time on that they should not be spending time on?” he says.
“[Graduate employees] are going to be doing that [work], and that’s step one. [The firm’s revenue generators] are not going to be filling in application forms any more.
“Once they’re all freed up from that, what’s the next lowest hanging fruit?
“In a small business you can grow this person as you grow your plan.”
But there are things that all businesses can do, whether large or small, to make themselves as attractive as possible to potential new employees, and to ensure that once hired, a graduate becomes a productive member of staff.
Barr has identified seven characteristics that all businesses should strive to exhibit.
“These things I look at as maintenance and insurance on your investment,” he says. “If you buy a flash car you’re going to wash it, you’re going to service it and you’re going to insure it.
“It’s expensive to start, so you might as well keep them.”
For graduate employees there must be a bigger purpose in what they are asked to do, Barr says. There must also be an authenticity in how the business treats them – trust, consistency and being given enough time to do what they’re asked to do are central to this.
Can’t be set-and-forget
Pay needs to be reasonable, not necessarily top dollar, and certainly not used to build loyalty, Barr says. Formalised communication about performance and expectations are a feature of big businesses but can be applied in small businesses too, Barr says. Graduates do not want to be put on a “set-and-forget” path.
“They want leadership,” he says.
“They’re crying out for leadership, for something to link to.”
It’s also critical that there’s a clear plan for developing skills and providing ongoing training and education. And above all, each party’s expectations must be realistic.
Barr says millennials are reckoned to have a “half-life” that’s even shorter than Gen Y.
“They expect to move quicker, they expect to do things quicker, and so forth,” he says. “We can sit there and fight that, or we can embrace that. I choose to embrace it. Things that we’ve seen and things that have worked [recognise] that millennials like to see things through to an end. They are kind of project-orientated. They like to be given a task – and it can be a long task – that they can come through and finish.
“They like to work flexibly [and] they like to have other interests; they like to be global. These are all things we traditionally regard as being a nightmare, but why wouldn’t we look at ways of embracing it?”