Launching an apprenticeship programme is a big challenge for any private sector organisation.

At Barclays, we set an ambitious target at the start of this year to take on 1,000 young people not in education, work or employment and took the programme from conception to getting our first apprentices into work within four months.

The twelve-month programme provides apprentices with the valuable experience of learning the ropes as cashiers, telephone bankers, and mortgage operations specialists.

During this time they receive regular progress review and assessment visits, functional skills testing for learners without GCSEs grades A-C in Maths and English, and 16 hours of additional self-directed study as they work towards achieving qualifications including a BTEC in Customer Service and an NVQ in Retail Banking.

All our apprentices are paid a salary commensurate with new joiners, and all those who complete the 12 month programme are guaranteed a permanent role.

Running a successful apprenticeship programme

First and foremost, senior executive buy-in and support is crucial to driving the programme. Antony Jenkins, our Chief Executive of Retail and Business Banking, has led this drive from the front, giving us huge momentum and communicating clear objectives to everyone involved.

In a large company it is important to form a working party with representatives across the business and ensure you take a wide range of views into account. This is a big challenge but a crucial step in ensuring consistency across all departments and regions.

When planning how to implement the programme, make sure you seek advice from The National Apprenticeships Service (NAS) on how apprenticeship programmes work, the different types of funding processes and their implications – such as who will hold the funding contract.

Finding and selecting the outside expertise you need is vital and well worth spending time on. After a competitive process, Barclays appointed Elmfield Training to bring in their know-how in finding and assessing the right candidates.

Goal-setting

As part of the planning process, ensure you have clear goals, and clear definitions about who you want to target.

Our focus is on young people who are ‘NEET’ but in particular those who have no prior experience or qualifications and by making that clear from the beginning it’s possible to really focus our efforts.

Although we have an ambitious target of 1,000 apprenticeships, it is the ‘quality’ measures that really count: setting tough standards to ensure this is a genuinely life-changing experience, raising young people’s confidence, giving them skills and qualifications, and expanding their horizons about what they can achieve.

It is important to set goals on the business benefits too. We hope to retain even more staff under this programme than we have from our traditional intake in the first 12 months, and this will demonstrate the positive outcomes for the business.

Preparing for culture change

Engaging with employees may require a culture change and preparing for this starts with winning over line managers’ hearts and minds by helping them understand how the programme fits in with our wider strategy and citizenship agenda. We aim to shift mindsets from seeing this as bringing in potentially ‘challenging’ people, to seeing it as an opportunity to harness an untapped wealth of talent.

Of course you need to implement relevant training for line managers, but this can also be an opportunity to make their job easier. We have managed to speed up the screening and induction process for apprentices so line managers have an extra incentive to take them on.

Long-term investment

Many company policies overlook NEETs, seeing them as a ‘challenging’ group to employ, and to date the same has sadly been true of banks. But there can be real rewards for both young people and your business by investing in their untapped potential.

We have 60 apprentices in post so far and we have been overwhelmed by their positive attitude and potential which has exceeded all our expectations. It is not just the apprentices who benefit, Barclays is also becoming a stronger organisation, with a richer and more diverse workforce as a result.

One of the best ways that private sector companies can support our economy and society is through employment and training – and our programme helps to bridge the skills gaps that many young people struggle with when they leave mainstream education.

It is important that large employers like us take the plunge to create that vital first job opportunity for young people. By investing in today’s generation we can create long term value for society.

Lynne Atkin, HR Director, Barclays UK Retail and Business Banking