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Young people need financial education in the workplace

Young people need financial education in the workplace

by Michelle McGagh May 19, 2017 at 18:07

How much do you know about money and how confident are you about making decisions about your cash? If you’re a millennial, chances are you break out into a cold sweat at the mention of pensions.

The fact is millennials – people aged 18 to 35 – are falling behind when it comes to financial literacy. A survey by insurer Allianz earlier this year discovered only half of under-35s know how inflation works and more worrying, less than one-in-five have tried to figure out how much money they might need for retirement.

It’s not a surprise that if you’re not sure what inflation is all about, even though it affects you directly, then you’re not going to have a clue where to start when it comes to saving for your old age, or saving at all.

Part of the problem may be that younger people are too preoccupied with making their wages stretch now to think about making decisions about their long-term finances. Another survey by the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association showed that both male and female millennials felt they were less able to save than their parents, with 57% of men and 58% of women reporting that it was tougher to put money aside.

Worryingly, 37% of women and 30% of men felt they had worse ‘life opportunities’ than their parents’ generation.

And you can’t blame young people for thinking there’s no point in learning how to manage their money if they think they’ll never have any money to manage. It’s undeniable that it’s harder to get on the housing ladder, harder to build a decent pension, and harder to make your wages stretch to cover the necessities which are becoming more expensive while wages remain stagnant.

But all those hardships are exactly the reason people need to learn about money. We’re no longer living in a world where employers are paternalistically offering gold-plated pensions and a job for life – these days you need to sort yourself out.

If you’re going to learn about money, who is going to teach you?

The first stop is your parents but if your parents don’t have any practical experience of managing money then you’re out of luck.

What about school? Financial education became compulsory in schools in 2013, with money management being added to the curriculum as part of ‘personal, social, health and economic education’. It’s a great start but when you leave university with, what is now potentially £30,000, of debt then you need more real-world help than theory.

That’s where the workplace can help. Countless surveys have shown we trust our employers to do the right thing for us. The government has already realised the benefits of financial ‘nudging’ through employers, which is why it rolled out auto-enrolment to ensure we’re saving into pensions through the workplace.

Our employers are providing our salary, (some of) our pension contributions and often other perks such as insurance or gym memberships, so how about offering some financial education too?

There is more pressure on the individual to pay for themselves these days but that doesn’t mean employers can’t give people a nudge in the right direction, especially in the early stages of a career when a person may be paying off debt, learning to budget for a household, saving to buy a house, or thinking of having a child.

Giving people the tools to budget, providing information about ways to save, and busting the myths and jargon that make finance so inaccessible would set people up for life.

Encouraging people to save, even just small amounts, at a young age - whether that be into a pension or another product like an ISA – will ingrain good habits that are harder to pick up as you age. How many people have told themselves they can’t afford to save when actually they have had numerous pay rises and are still spending what they earn.

Even learning basic money saving rules like ‘pay yourself first’ so you put money away at the beginning of the month can ensure savings build up over time.

It’s not for employers to tell people what to do and scold them if they don’t save enough but it would help a lot of people, whose only financial experience might be paying off debt, to have their hand held a bit, to be provided with options, and to be told that it’s OK to start small but saving something, is better than saving nothing. 

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Comments  (6)

  • Ola Szaran: 

    Michelle, I think you're making a valid point that even basic money management skills like 'pay yourself first' (something that I learned much later in life then I would like) can make a difference.

    But I believe the responsibility for financial literacy should be divided between schools, universities and employers (not to mention parents, of course).

    As you are mentioning in this article, students are now leaving with potential £30k debt, I would even say the average total debt sits around £44k including maintenance loan and other living expenses. I think it is important to provide financial education to students, so they know how to minimise bad debt, and understand how to tackle the challenge of paying off their student loans, as they enter workplace.

    I'm currently working on a white paper looking at impact of financial education on students, so let me know if you would be interested to see it.

    Thank you for this great article!

    08:48 on 22 May 2017

  • HUFC: 

    Whilst I agree with the general sentiments, the key issue is in the quote " these days you need to sort yourself out."

    The trouble with it's " harder to make your wages stretch to cover the necessities which are becoming more expensive" is that those "necessities" involve taking out expensive mobile phone contracts, or gym contracts which are rarely used. A work colleague recently claimed he couldn't afford to pay £10 p.m. extra pension, even though he spends £100 p.m. on takeaways! The proliferation of Deliveroo couriers on our streets tells its own story

    Anybody leaving university with £30,000 debt & no idea of how it will be funded, hasn't learned one of the basic lessons from the university of life - living within your means

    11:04 on 22 May 2017

  • Kentyfish: 

    classic grey comment above. completely detached from the current reality

    15:48 on 22 May 2017

  • Alan Tonks: 

    Michelle another stunning article, why on earth should the workplace provide financial guidance for their younger employees!!

    18:28 on 22 May 2017

  • Annielewis: 

    These ideas is good,but this measure maybe is not practical in the reality I guess.BTW,This article is very nice.

    02:23 on 05 June 2017

  • Jasper40: 

    I partially agree with Alan Tonks, why should the workplace provide financial guidance. However, I work for a housing association and an online survey of staff revealed a majority would welcome a general financial advice / guidance seminar if it was provided. I was surprised by the figure but if it helps then all to the good and perhaps it is something the larger employers should consider although impractical for small employers.

    08:57 on 21 July 2017

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