Interview with Mike Thompson, head of employability and early careers programmes, Barclays

Apprentice Eye recently caught up with Mike Thompson, head of employability and early careers programmes at Barclays, to discuss how the company has benefited from hiring apprentices.

What advice would you give to a school leaver interested in a career in finance who is unsure of whether or not to go to university?

There are a lot of routes into a career in finance and a degree is just one of them. It’s certainly no longer the only option. Many of the biggest employers in the financial sector offer both traineeships and apprenticeships, Barclays included, which offers a great first step on the ladder.

Ultimately, decisions about whether or not to go to university are very personal. For some people, university is absolutely the right choice and offers a fantastic route into many careers. For others, learning in a more practical way, on the job, is more appealing. The fact you can earn a wage from the outset is often a motivating factor for those that choose this route. The best starting point is to thoroughly research your options and think about how you like to learn before making any decisions.

Do you think that apprenticeships should be seen as equal to university degrees?

Yes, without a doubt: apprenticeships and university degrees should be considered equal.  Employers are keen to hire young people with an apprenticeship – research by LifeSkills created with Barclays found that just over half (54%) of SMEs would like to hire an entry level candidate who has completed one – meaning the number available is increasing. Last year, 231,000 more apprenticeships were started than in 2010 according to figures from the House of Commons.

It’s important to remember that there are also different levels of apprenticeships and a level 6 (higher apprenticeships) is considered to be the same level of qualification as a degree. Although they are different, degrees and apprenticeships are both designed for the same purpose – to help young people start their career.

You spearheaded the launch of traineeships at Barclays. How long do these last and how do they prepare young people for apprenticeships or employment?

A candidate on our traineeship scheme will do 250 hours of training over a seven week course. We believe that this will ensure they have a thorough grounding in the skills needed for a career at Barclays.

The trainee starts with five weeks of training to improve their employability and functional skills which prepares them for a two week work placement at a local business – handpicked to be a good fit for the candidate and their interests. At the end of the two week work placement, and if the trainee has met the expectations of the course, they will be offered the chance to interview and undertake a role at a Barclays branch or with a business partner.

How have apprenticeships benefited Barclays?

Our apprentices have benefited Barclays in many different ways. Every business needs to ensure that it is bringing in fresh, young talent who can innovate the way it does business. This has definitely been the case with our apprentices. Almost without exception, they’ve been motivated, talented and given us a different insight into both the industry and our customers.

Our recruitment process also focuses on young people who may not have achieved academically in the past, meaning it also opens up the pool we’re recruiting from. We’ve therefore adapted what we look for. We’re not interested in qualifications or past experience, but rather specific mind-sets and attitudes and the results have been fantastic.

What kinds of apprenticeships does Barclays offer?

Barclays offers a wide range of high quality and engaging apprenticeships; we’re incredibly proud that last year our programme produced the 2013 National Apprentice Champion of the year; Chloe Gailes from our IT Apprenticeship programme. The possible courses cover a variety of different sectors, from social media at our London headquarters to cashiers in branch. The levels available range from level 2 QCF qualifications worth 5 GCSE’s, to level 6 apprenticeships that are the equivalent of a degree.

How long do apprentices stay with your company?

Our focus with apprentices is on the long term. Everyone that passes the programme is offered a permanent role with us. Then, we are dedicated to ensuring they have a career and can progress. For some this means taking the next level apprenticeship or moving into a different sector of the business. For others, it’s about climbing the ladder within the business they entered. We want every apprentice to stay with us because they offer a unique perspective and we don’t want to lose that talent.

What advice would you give an employer unsure about hiring apprentices?

I would tell them to just go for it. Apprentices enhance a company a great deal, not only do they bring a fresh perspective and new ideas but there are also benefits to the bottom line. Research by the National Apprenticeship Service found that apprentices bring in £214 a week which boosts productivity.

It can seem like a daunting process, however, which is why LifeSkills, created with Barclays has set up advice and support for SMEs that want to hire a local young person as an apprentice. The programme can not only help with recruitment and gaining funding but also a mentor throughout the process for both the business and apprentice.