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The apprenticeships offering an alternative route into financial services

IFS programme has opened up a new pool of talent the industry didn’t have access to before

Established by Ibec industry association Financial Services Ireland (FSI) in 2017, the International Financial Services (IFS) apprenticeship programme is providing new access routes into the industry as well as offering a credible recruitment alternative for organisations seeking more diverse candidates.

To date, some 114 apprentices have completed the programme and 41 people joined in January in the latest intake. The programme has been outstandingly successful so far, according to IFS apprenticeships programme manager Carol Kenna. "The very impressive results of the first two intakes tell their own story," she says. "Retention rates were 90 per cent while 100 per cent of the apprentices remained in employment in the sector. Eighty-three per cent were promoted on completion of the programme."

The apprenticeship is a two year, nationally accredited work-based programme designed to meet employers’ needs at both entry level and specialist level roles in the financial services sector. The apprenticeships lead to a Level 6 Higher Certificate in International Financial Services or a Level 8 Higher Diploma in Financial Services Analytics.

The programme is rooted in the sector’s wider growth ambitions. “IFS is very much a policy driven organisation,” Kenna explains. “We are led by a board of senior executives in Irish and international financial service organisations and they have set a goal of making Ireland one of the world’s top 30 financial services centres by 2025. Skills and development are part of that.”


The programme concept came about back in 2016 when the government was launching the new generation of apprenticeships as part of its effort to address skills gaps in the economy. "We linked up with the National College of Ireland (NCI) to develop the academic side of the programme. It is a very can-do organisation and has been very helpful. We also put together a consortium steering group consisting of senior HR representatives from the financial services employers. We looked at areas of the sector that needed further development. There wasn't a major skills gap so we looked at other aspects that could be addressed by apprenticeships."

The result was a programme suitable both for individuals looking for a career change and for upskilling existing employees.

“We looked at different models of apprenticeship when we were designing the programme,” Kenna says. “The traditional craft apprenticeship block release wouldn’t work for this industry. Instead, the apprentices attend college one day per week during the academic year for the Level 6 qualification. The Level 8 programme apprentices attend college throughout the full two years. It’s an earn-and-learn model and the apprentices get paid a salary that takes into account the fact that they are in college. They get study and exam leave as well. It’s a win-win for apprentices.”

Each apprentice is assigned an in-company mentor as well as an academic mentor and are allowed time to attend college. “The mentors are very much involved in everything the apprentices do. They help out with work and academic assignments. The outcomes have been phenomenal with 100 per cent success rates on the two programmes.”

Carmel Mitchell, global head of talent with Fidelity International is also chair of the IFS apprenticeship committee. The organisation took on its first intake of five apprentices from the first cohort and three years later it continues to welcome apprentices, with over 20 employed now. "We're on our fourth cohort of apprentices now and have had 28 in total since 2017," says Mitchell.

“Like most organisations, we are trying to increase the diversity of our workforce,” she adds. “We have created a programme for people who want to work in financial services but didn’t have the right background or qualifications for it. That has opened up a pool of talent we didn’t have access to before. The majority of the apprentices are quite mature. They have completed a degree or have experience in another career in sectors like retail, manufacturing and so on. These are people who may have gone to college but were in a career that wasn’t right for them. The programme has been a great success for us.”

She encourages other organisations to get involved. “I’m very passionate about it and I’ve seen the proof of how good it is here in Fidelity. We are asking kids to make career and life choices when they are very, very young with no life experience behind them to base it on. Programmes like this give them an opportunity to get into this industry later on.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times