Guest blog: Building the skills of our financial and professional services’ workforce for a bright future

12 February 2024

Our regions can play a huge role in the prosperity of the UK’s financial and professional services sector.

But the sector’s continued growth will depend on whether we create the best possible conditions for success – including a workforce with the skills to succeed in an industry that is changing rapidly, and facing challenges such as the impact of technology and shifts in workplace culture and workforce demographics.

The Yorkshire and the Humber Financial and Professional Skills Commission that I chair was formed in March 2023, to build a clearer picture of the skills financial and professional services employers in Yorkshire and the Humber require, and create a vision for how businesses, education providers, local government and others can work together to ensure skills needs are met.

The Commission recently published its first report, with five key recommendations to ensure the region’s workforce keeps pace with the rapid changes of the industry:

  • Expanding the pipeline of new talent entering the industry by taking new approaches to recruitment, such as increasing the use of higher-level apprenticeships, developing employer understanding of T-Levels and broadening engagement with students.
  • Increasing investment in developing the skills of the existing workforce, focusing on employee development as a strategic priority and guaranteeing opportunities for staff to learn new skills.
  • Raising awareness of, and access to, financial and professional services careers in the region with careers outreach in schools and colleges, focusing on ‘cold spots’ where young people have less access to the industry.
  • Driving greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce – measuring workforce diversity, closing gaps and implementing evidence-based diversity and inclusion strategies.
  • Coordinating and collaborating on shared skills challenges, with employers, educators, politicians and other stakeholders working closely and more effectively to solve our collective challenges.

The economy of the Yorkshire and Humber region makes a significant contribution to the wealth and prosperity of the UK, not least of all through the development of an outstanding financial and professional services sector. Employing over 149,000 people and generating £11.8billion, the sector is one of the region’s success stories.

The booming sector is a mixture of old and new, with multinational banks and fintech start-ups calling the region home alongside centuries-old law firms, building societies and mutuals. More recently, institutions such as the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the new UK Infrastructure Bank have all chosen to launch operations in Leeds – making it a second hub for financial bodies outside of London.

It's not just organisations and the UK economy that benefit from the sector, but people who work in it too. Jobs in financial and professional services in the region are skilled, productive and, on average, better paid than the jobs in the region as a whole.[1]

Over the last decade, Yorkshire and the Humber has seen the third highest growth in financial and professional services of any region in England.[2] This growth is predicted to continue, with financial and business services expected to drive over half of Leeds’ economic expansion over the coming decade.[3]

Having spent my career in both legal and financial services firms in the region I have seen first-hand the growth of the sector and the speed of change, so I have been very pleased to chair the Commission to address this challenge.

Political leadership, investor confidence and local infrastructure will all be important, but the key element will always be our people.

Financial and professional services have the potential to play an even more significant role in the region’s future, and it is my hope – and that of the Commission – that greater collaboration between business, government and education providers will help equip the workforce of the future to deliver even greater success and prosperity.

The Commission found that reducing skills gaps, combined with the effects of automation, could add over £1bn in output in Yorkshire and the Humber by 2038. The focus now is on turning its analysis into practical action from employers and their partners.

With many parts of the country facing the same collective challenges, I am confident that other regions will find our research useful, and that education providers, policy makers and employers elsewhere would have a similar enthusiasm for this kind of joint working.

A strong local skills base and consistent pipeline of new talent helps businesses to grow and adapt, and attracts new investors and employers to an area.

Every region and nation of the UK will be coming under greater pressure to attract and retain talent and make the most of the full potential of everyone in their area – ensuring more people are able to build successful careers, whatever their background.

[1] Enabling growth across the UK 2023: UK-based financial and related professional services, TheCityUK

[2] ibid.


John spoke on the 'Boosting skills development across our UK regions and nations' panel at the 'Future Skills Conference 2024'. Watch the full session here.

John Heaps photo
John Heaps Chairman, Yorkshire Building Society

John joined the Yorkshire Building Society Board in 2014 as Chairman Designate, becoming Chair of the Board in 2015.

A qualified lawyer, John worked in the legal profession for 40 years and joined the senior management team of corporate law firm Eversheds in 1999. He was appointed Chairman of Eversheds in 2010 for a four year term and retired in 2015.

John has extensive commercial and legal experience in his leadership role in shaping Eversheds’ long-term strategy as it grew into a major international law firm. In the last few years he has contributed to the development and success of both the Society, including driving Board succession, as well as the various financial bodies of which he had been a member.