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Army to Apprentice: how I brought a different way of thinking to leadership

Stephen tells us how he kick-started his Barclays career as a mature apprentice.

At 16, I joined the British Army as a chef. I wanted to see the world; to experience as many cultures as I could. I travelled to so many different countries, from Germany to Kenya, cooking for all kinds of people – whether that’s 16,000 soldiers in Iraq or the Queen in Balmoral.

 

I gradually went up the ranks and became a Corporal. Unfortunately, I then had a car accident which resulted in severe nerve damage and limited movement in my left arm. I spent the next two years going through surgery and physio to get as much movement back as possible, but sadly it wasn’t enough to continue my military career.

 

Opening new doors after the Army

 

So, what led me to Barclays? There’s something called the Barclays AFTER programme (Armed Forces Transition, Employment and Resettlement) which supports ex-servicemen and women back into civilian employment. At one of their meetings, I heard about the Barclays Higher Apprenticeship. It sounded like a brilliant opportunity to get into an industry that I never realised was an option for me.

 

I applied, demonstrated my strengths and experience, and was offered the role of a Leadership and Management Higher Apprentice. It meant my 15 years of leadership in the Army wouldn’t go to waste. In fact, my transferable skills were seen as a real strength to Barclays. I’m talking about things like teamwork, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of individuals, and intrinsically understanding how to support them.

 

The Army taught me to think differently, think for myself and think about others too. It’s an attitude that’s genuinely applicable to a leadership role at Barclays. I’m able to look at problems from different angles and help those around me.

 

Practical learning and support

 

After 19 years out of education, it was time to get back in. I worked towards a degree in Leadership Management on my apprenticeship – which I achieved in my late 30s. There was a lot of support around me from the very start, and it was great learning from such a diverse cohort of apprentices with different ages, backgrounds and experiences.

 

Something that really stood out to me was the way we had the chance to approach real work independently. It was very much, ‘This is what you need to do, here are the tools you need, now give it a go’. The apprenticeship was a perfect blend of theory and hands-on experience, where you could put what you learned into practice.

 

Finding fresh uses for proven skills

 

Across every role I took on, I brought a different view of leadership into the branch network. Having spent a bit of time working with Army recruitment, I’d sharpened my ability to spot potential in others. As a leader here, I could apply that skill by helping people develop in new ways and see which skillsets would best benefit the whole team.

 

I set up a six-week training programme with experienced colleagues showing new team members the ropes and becoming their mentors. It meant people got trained by the experts and it gave them the chance to quickly move around, and up, to help find their ideal career path. In other words, my difference in background and way of thinking meant I could make a positive impact on Barclays as a business and my colleagues.

 

Doing good in the community

 

If I had to pick a highlight of my apprenticeship, it’s this: raising money for the Rainbows Hospice for Children and Young People, who provide care and support for those with life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. As part of our degree course, we worked on a project to help raise much-needed funds for them.

 

Our apprentice cohort was split into three fundraising groups: one focused on social media, another on schools and education, and my group was responsible for working with businesses. On top of all that we had our individual goals and contributions too; I did a half marathon and other people did things like sky dives. We all pulled together as a team and raised around £18,000. Barclays then matched our efforts, taking our grand total to over £34,000.

 

Saying yes to every opportunity

 

For any mature apprentices out there, don’t think of an apprenticeship as a step back but a step in a different direction. Chances are, you’ll have transferrable skills that are really valuable here. I think the fact that Barclays are celebrating 10 years of apprenticeships speaks volumes about how important they are to the bank. Barclays see the value that every individual apprentice can bring; what you bring as a person. So any opportunity that comes your way: say yes. Who knows where it could lead?

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