Like many of my fellow students, the question of what to do after university was one that I did not have a set-in-stone answer for. My degree in History and Politics did not naturally lead down any particular career path, which lead to the decision to seek a role where there would be opportunities to explore different career options. I was fortunate in that I was accepted onto the Capita ‘Lead the Way’ graduate programme; graduates are encouraged to rotate around the business and study for further qualifications, such as a Masters in Management, in order to gain a broad range of skills and to identify their best fit role. Six months into the programme, after my first rotation in an operations process improvement consultancy role, I found my home and applied for an Associate Consultant role within the defined contribution (DC) pension consultancy practice within Capita Employee Benefits.
If I had been asked before I started the programme what industry I would like to enter, the pensions industry would probably not have featured near the top of the list! However, it became apparent that the industry on the whole had a lot to offer for someone like myself just starting their career and looking to gain a wide range of skills. The industry is diverse with a number of different opportunities to progress in the market, ranging from consultancy practices (where I sit), to providers, advisers, data scientists and tech providers. As such there are also a wide range of roles to explore. It is highly competitive and constantly changing – an exciting place to be! Furthermore, there is clear career progression, with opportunities for further training, qualifications and development.
As an Associate Consultant my role is to contribute towards the management of a portfolio of DC Consulting clients and also to the development and delivery of strategy, the business plan and brand. This is achieved by supporting the consultants and senior consultants within the business by performing analytical work on member data; writing reports and client communications; and contributing ideas of where we can add value to our existing clients. I have also been given opportunities to learn about marketing, proposition development, data, finance and tech platforms. The role has required mathematical ability to perform basic calculations and analysis, a good grasp of the English language for report writing, and the ability to think critically and creatively in order to solve problems. I also benefit from writing critical essays for my Masters qualification on strategic business problems with potential solutions which I have been able to put forward to my manager. There has been the opportunity to develop communication and presentation skills to present analysis in a clear and coherent manner internally and externally. All of this can be made a lot easier if you know your way around an Excel spreadsheet or can pull together a PowerPoint deck.
There have of course been challenges. For me, the biggest was getting my head around the lingo, jargon and endless list of abbreviations you find in the pensions industry particularly as, unlike my colleagues, I did not have any prior experience within pensions due to entering as part of a graduate programme. The nature of my role has also required knowledge of the legislation that surrounds pensions. If you are working within tech or with data it is common for challenges to arise in working out how to deliver something, especially when doing it for the first time or to tight timeframes, which can be a source of both frustration and satisfaction. Given the nature of client work it is not uncommon to experience periods when you may have more on your plate.
If you are considering a career in the pensions industry, I would recommend thinking about how you can demonstrate competencies in problem solving and thinking analytically. There are many routes into pensions as well as a variety of opportunities to suit everyone. I would do some background research, look at trends, read some of the thought leadership pieces and think about how you would approach them and what your view is. It may even be beneficial to reach out to individuals via LinkedIn, Twitter etc. to start building a network. I would highly recommend applying for opportunities that allow you to experience many different areas, as part of either a graduate programme or an apprenticeship.
What is clear is that the pension industry offers a diverse range of opportunities where you can develop a broad range of skills.