On Tuesday 7th February we were lucky enough to be joined by Frances Coppola, a former banker and now prominent financial writer, Andy Ross a former deputy of the Treasury and Howard Kingston, head of maritime insurance at the Zurich Insurance Group. Where we settled into a lecture theatre for an evening of insights into the world of work.
A number of themes stood out, some related closely to the guiding topic of the talk (‘are our degrees failing us’) and most about general advice on how to approach the world of work.
The message was nuanced, but broadly similar across the board: are degrees are not failing us, but they could be a lot better and more applicable to the working world. This models we learn are not useless but not always useful, and that what we learn is far from the whole picture. Andy Ross gave a number of very funny accounts of people using simple macroeconomic models to look at issues as complex as immigration.
To this end Frances Coppola had a lot to say. Adding that we need to understand how things actually are: banks create nearly all of the money in circulation and that money itself, while it is often skirted over as a ‘means of exchange’, it can be far better understood as a product in of itself. A product that is bought and sold at a price determined by market forces, just like any other(take the dollar as an example here). Can an economics education that doesn’t really factor this in be considered fit for purpose?
The world is messy and complex and changing quite exponentially, or so a message went. To be able to offer something in the world of work and to be able to get yourself through successfully, you need to be able to think critically. Sure, they said a degree should help you with that, but we should hopefully pick it up.
Andy Ross reminded us of the distinction between academics and professional practitioners as he calls them(someone in the non-educational working world) and the disjunctures in approach that often exist. And that we, as students, should remember that we will likely be joining this world. To illustrate this we might look at how in University we are encouraged not to assume anything. Everything is up for debate and critique. In the world of the professional practicioner, assumptions have to be made and acted upon in order to get anything done..
Valuable insights into the need for soft skills were especially emphasised by Howard Kingston, and of course. these skills certainly reflected themselves in the people we saw in front of us, all with a good sense of humour, all very amiable and all with a very analytical approach to the world. He was saying in a way that for most jobs that aren’t directly vocational your better off just doing a degree – it doesn’t really matter what it is, but it’s just best to do one. It’s not so much about the content itself but the analytical skills and social skills you build up.
Frances Coppola’s input was most comforting. She started out as a singer and kind of ‘fell into’ banking. Which is good news for those of us without much of a plan.
We are very thankful to our speakers for taking time out of what we are sure are busy schedules to come and give us this inside scoop on the world of work.