IN the last few weeks, thousands of students will have collected the results of the exams they sat just a few months ago. Whether it’s A-Level, GCSE or other, months and years of preparation will have gone in, with next steps and future career plans now a hot topic in many households.
Regardless of the outcome, results week can be an overwhelming time for students, teachers, parents, and guardians. One reason for this, and perhaps a positive one, is the sheer scale of opportunities that now exist in Northern Ireland.
We have a world-class, mature educational system that offers all levels of qualification in many disciplines. Routes into the professional world no longer follow the linear process of A- Level, university, and eventual employment.
Today there is a whole system of diplomas, higher-level apprenticeships, and skills academies to complement the traditional route.
This is a result of advancements in how we live and do business, something which we as a region have responded well to. Despite the pandemic, Northern Ireland continues to enjoy a boom period in technology as the industry grows both in size and economic contribution, leading the way on developments in payments and mobile banking to name a few.
Financial technology, the discipline which improves and automates the delivery of financial services, is key to this. Now worth over £392 million in annual value and employing over 7,000 people directly, it is a growing sector that is expected to create thousands more roles in years to come.
For students, fintech is an opportunity to play a role in our economy of the future. A key priority area in the Department for the Economy’s 10X vision, the rapid growth of the sector has earned us recognition around the world, yet many of the people currently working in fintech may not have known it’s potential when at school themselves.
This is why STEM subjects are vital, and courses that inspire innovative thinking are important for local industry. Software development, blockchain, data science and cyber security are some of the most in demand disciplines in today’s sector, while problem-solving, disruptive thinking, high interpersonal skills, and an ability to adapt are the main soft skills that are beneficial in fintech.
This is what employers in the sector are looking for, and we as the independent industry association are working to ensure there is no shortage of qualified candidates to support further growth. The fintech sector is revolutionising the way we spend, manage, save, and invest our money, yet this potential relies on employees, and we must encourage more of our talented young people to pursue a future in the area.
This is a sector where curiosity is welcomed, challenge is encouraged and those who are willing to question and disrupt are being increasingly sought after for well-paid, dynamic roles.
A range of courses and qualifications provide a direct route into the sector, including at Ulster and Queen’s Universities, our further education colleges, and via the Department for the Economy’s Assured Skills Academies in local technology companies.
:: Andrew Jenkins is chair of the FinTech NI Association