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The Credit Services Association (CSA)
Blog: National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week 2017: championing careers in debt collection
Fiona Macaskill is the Credit Services Association’s Head of Learning & Development. She is responsible for developing the Association's learning and education programmes as part of a comprehensive career and professional development pathway, and to facilitate sharing of best practice in learning and development across the industry.
This week is both National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week 2017. During last year’s National Apprenticeship Week, I wrote a blog entitled ‘Ever thought about a career in debt collection?’ It looked ahead to the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 as an opportunity for the debt collection sector to give young people and others looking for a career change, an opportunity to consider a career in a sector that has traditionally not been seen as a ‘dream job’.
A year on, we have been working hard to develop apprenticeship standards and other learning & development solutions that will help us to attract and retain the next generation of talent into the debt collection sector and working more widely as a trade body and with our members to position debt collection as a credible and rewarding career path. And it is paying off.
The first round of graduates from our member First Locate’s apprenticeship scheme, launched in 2014, have completed their Debt Collection Apprenticeships, which includes the CSA’s ‘Working in the Debt Collection Industry’ Technical Certificate, giving other employers and learners a best practice example of what can be done ahead of the introduction of the Levy.
National Apprenticeship Week is also a timely opportunity to look at what other initiatives the industry is running to attract new talent. As part of its talent attraction strategy, another of our members, Lowell Group, has announced the launch of a new Decision Science/Analytics graduate programme delivered from its Leeds Headquarters.
And other debt collection agencies are also looking higher up the chain at leadership and management training to support the embedding of the huge cultural transformation that the debt collection sector has been through in recent years.
Debt collection sector skills gaps
Working in debt collection at all levels requires a complex range of skills. From entry level to board level, employees need both specialist and transferable skills that make them fit for a tough but rewarding job with plenty of progression opportunities. While large call centre needs are dwindling, higher calibre recruits are needed to perform vital roles that ensure quality (over quantity) customer and commercial outcomes.
Decision Science is one such example of a specialist area of work that may not spring to mind when thinking about working in debt collection. Lowell’s Decision Science department, made up of business analysts, statisticians and behavioural scientists, is focused on understanding, measuring and predicting consumer financial behaviour. Certainly far from the stuffy, corporate, targets-driven perception of debt collection agencies! These highly skilled people are vital for the future success of the industry and they need to be attracted both from outside the sector and within by upskilling those with ‘coalface’ experience of dealing with real customers.
Leadership and management skills are also at the top of the agenda for the debt collection industry and, faced with long-standing reputational issues, it is still tough to recruit top leaders from other sectors to bring a fresh perspective. That is why it’s so important that we start nurturing the next generation of leaders now and we believe that apprenticeships and other vocational learning is a great foundation for this.
Appetite for learning
The thing that fills me with most confidence that filling these skills gaps is possible, is the industry’s appetite for learning. As a sector, a huge amount has been learnt in recent years and, when it comes to innovative thinking and ‘doing the right thing’, debt collection agencies have become an unlikely underdog leading the charge with Government, creditors and the advice sector take our lead when it comes to addressing issues like dealing with vulnerable customers.
There is widespread recognition across the sector that meeting new regulatory demands and increasing commercial competitiveness by staying ahead of the curve requires ongoing learning and development at all levels. There is very much a ‘learning culture’ within both large and small organisations that goes way beyond the ‘tick box’ approach to compliance.
70% of surveyed employers said apprenticeships improved product quality and service (source: English Apprenticeships: Our 2020 Vision) and we believe that building on this ‘learning culture’ will ensure that not only are careers in debt collection seen as attractive but that those working in the sector will make a greater contribution to the success of the organisations they work for.
From customer service to behavioural science and leadership, debt collection offers a wide range of career opportunities that provide transferable skills within and outside the financial services and wider sectors. Upskilling their workforces is in the interests of debt collection agencies to help drive the sector forward and ensure that they have access to the pool of talent they need to keep growing and improving practices.