Feature

Banking on diversity


Barclays UK HRD is investing in a multi-generational workforce in order to future-proof the business

Words by Sophie Parrott | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Sophie Parrott


Design by Matt Bonnar

For many years, London’s banking sector has struggled to shake off the stereotype that it is only staffed by white middle-aged males. Even those in banking acknowledge this. “I think there’s a perception of what a London-based, head-office banker looks and sounds like,” Ian Rand, CEO of Barclays Business Banking told Management Today. However, most employers would agree that homogeneity is damaging to business – particularly with an eye to the future.

Yet, banks are not unaware of the need to be diverse. Not least because they have a diverse array of customers. Barclays, for one, have retail branches stationed all over the UK, accessed by a broad range of users. By hiring diversely Barclays can deliver customer service that is matched to the needs of individual consumers. As an added benefit, it would also boost their employer and consumer brands. However, it is not just in the present that Barclays, or any bank, needs diversity. Changing consumer demands, driven by new technologies, mean that different skill-sets and experiences are needed to meet these changing expectations.

Which is why Barclays UK - having personal banking; corporate banking; wealth management; and investment management businesses - are looking at what they need to meet changing consumer demand going forward. And whilst it is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy what the future of work will look like, Lynne Atkin MBE, HR Director for Barclays UK and Group Head of Learning at Barclays, tells HR Grapevine that it is important that Barclays UK start addressing where they can see potential skills gaps now, to give them the best chance at conquering the future.

“Roles are changing because customers are choosing to interact in our branches very differently - coming into our branches for different reasons which drives the need for a different skillset,” Lynne explains. For this reason, Barclays’ UK HR lead tells me that she believes the makeup of Barclays’ workforce should directly reflect the needs of their customer base – to satisfy consumer demand but also to support the bank’s continuous growth. But for this to be effective long-term, Lynne says it is crucial that Barclays UK start this future-proofing immediately because there is already a concerning nation-wide skills shortage that is only likely to worsen.

She seems to be right according to research in the 2017 Skills and Demand in Industry report, which was published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, there is a worrying correlation between a lack of workforce diversity and future recruitment shortages. And these staffing shortfalls – due to a persistent lack of skills – is costing UK businesses over £6billion a year. A threat that Barclays UK clearly appear to have recognised.

I was interested in how else Barclays are actively preparing their workforce for the future. Lynne explains that the bank rolled out their LifeSkills programme to inspire and equip school-leavers with the key skills needed for the 21st Century workplace. This is because the banking behemoth recognises the pressing skills gap that could dampen business performance in future if left unaddressed. It’s an important issue. According to research from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CI-MA), eight in ten British school-leavers “lack essential business skills” for the workplace. Additionally, more than 80% of young people require “significant training” before possessing the desired skills to enter the workplace. Barclays’ LifeSkills programme works in tandem with educators, businesses, young people and parents to close this skills gap – and has reached more than 6.7million young people so far.

But, what exactly will the skills of the future be? Lynne believes that there will be a strong focus on analytics – something necessary for the banking sector. She adds that businesses should also focus on robotics and automation, as these will greatly shape the future of employment too. Which is why, alongside the LifeSkills programme, Barclays introduced the Barclays Apprenticeship Programmes in 2010 and is now run across all parts of the business after the bank recognised the importance of upskilling young talent and driving job creation.

It appears to have been a successful task. Over the past nine years, the banking behemoth has recruited over 3000 apprentices; while the company sets bigger sights on hiring over 5,000 before the end of 2020. Lynne explains that the accelerated candidate interest, particularly in their Higher Apprenticeship Programmes, is sparked by changing higher education perceptions. “We are seeing more and more that the behaviours of people leaving school and their A-Levels are beginning [to change and they are starting] to broaden their horizon in the sense that university may not be the best option for them, hence why we offer things like the Higher Apprenticeship Programme, where individuals can work and get a degree at the same time,” Lynne explains. And it seems that Lynne isn’t the only person recognising the benefit of employing this cohort. The business on a whole has identified the benefits of accessing different ways of thinking. They believe that thought diversity means that customers are better understood, which transcends into a better brand reputation and better business too.

Barclays approach to apprentices matches the government. Anne Milton, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills recently told The Telegraph that employing apprentices can, not only future-proof businesses, but curb pressing skills shortages. “Since May 2015 there have been more than 1.1million individuals starting an apprenticeship, which will provide each of them with the opportunity to gain the skills they need to get on in life. This is a fantastic achievement but only the start as we want to make sure all businesses have the skilled workforce they need [to cope with future business progression].” So, the benefits of supporting this generation into employment works both ways; apprentices secure full-time work and Barclays gain fresh talent with different cognitive reasoning and useful generational insights that will positively populate their workforce. But, as Barclays acknowledge, their customer populace is multi-generational, so school leavers aren’t the only people they need to be hiring.

As the UK workforce ages, Lynne explains that there are huge talent pools within the older generations and, more importantly, there is plenty of talent to go around. The availability of talent in this demographic is largely due to the fact that people are having to work beyond traditional retirement ages because they simply can’t afford to retire. This is backed up by stats. A recent study by Rest Less found that a third of workers plan to work beyond retirement mainly due to financial concerns. And this means that they are staying in work for longer. Lynne said that mature workers bring a whole heap of life experiences, empathy, and human skills to the table which Barclays view as an asset to the business. Therefore, employing this cohort is beneficial for both the older workers themselves and for Barclays’ when trying to recruit an age diverse workforce. Lynne tells me that some Barclays’ UK workers are still employed well into their 80s, so not only is it important that they hire older populations into their workforces, but they should do their bit to encourage them to stay in work because mature workers can enrich and improve Barclays’ skillsets. Lynne cites communicative and interpersonal skills as crucial for overcoming the future challenges of work which are core skills that this generation possess. Particularly as Barclays operate in a customer-facing industry, the demand for these interpersonal skills is rife – and remain so going forward.

It's not hard to conclude that Lynne believes through harnessing the talents of both younger and older workers Barclays UK can meet the demands of all their customers whilst also future-proofing their business. The younger, tech-savvy generations can lead Barclays into the digital future and their extensive knowledge of social media and technology is a welcome addition. Meanwhile, older employees - who are remaining in employment longer - can equip Barclays UK with the necessary communicative and interpersonal skills that some customers demand, and younger workers can learn from. In Barclays’ view, the combined skills of both of these demographics will greatly benefit customer service and will help Barclays prepare for the future of work. As Lynne concludes: “If you are only fishing from one talent pool – your stereotypical banker - businesses will be severely be missing out on talent and will be unable to train for the skills needed for the future of work with such a narrow cohort of workers.”


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