Barclays: community investment in action

A graduate at Barclays tells Craig O'Callaghan about a community investment initiative they established

Ben Grout is currently in his second year of the Barclays Corporate Banking Graduate Programme. He recently established a community investment initiative at Barclays that helps vulnerable young adults to become more employable.

What experience did you have of volunteering before joining Barclays?

I was the charity representative for my halls of residence at Loughborough University so I did various charity projects through that. We'd raise money for charities through fundraising and asking for spare change at local football matches. We also organised volunteering events within the local community, working on DIY projects such as building and painting fences.

What inspired you to launch your own community initiative through Barclays?

When I was at Loughborough, I worked with a charity called 20/20 which offered mentoring and employability skills training to young people who for one reason or another were failing in the school system. I decided to take some of the framework for that and do something similar with Barclays. I approached a charity based close to where I live in Stratford called East Thames which has a wide variety of different residents, some of whom are unemployed and in need of career support and guidance, and they were keen to partner with us.

What did the initiative involve?

I designed a series of workshops aimed at improving employability skills, from CV writing and communication skills to succeeding in interviews, dealing with stress and rejection, and setting goals. I also arranged for external speakers who I personally find inspiring to come in and speak on different areas, and also arranged for each individual to have a mentor to work with them.

The scheme ran for three months with a workshop every fortnight. When it was finished, all the participants and their friends and family were invited to our top floor for a closing ceremony where they were each presented with a certificate.

How did you keep participants engaged?

We tried to make the scheme as interactive as possible. One of our first sessions was on dealing with rejection and exploring how a rejection isn't a negative thing but an opportunity to develop. We set them all a task of getting rejected from as many things as possible and the winner was given tickets to the ATP World Tour Tennis Final at the O2 Arena. Tasks like that are more successful at getting people involved than just lecturing them.

How supportive were Barclays of the initiative?

Barclays is always very encouraging. Sixteen employees from my direct area in the bank got involved and mentored participants, as well as senior stakeholders which was really encouraging. If you have an idea that will benefit the community, Barclays will back you 100 per cent. There are, of course, pre-established community initiatives that you can join but if you have your own ideas, you're given support and allowed to pursue them.

How did you juggle your normal work with running this initiative?

Running the community initiative, which I did along with one other person, was quite intensive and probably took up around 60 hours over the four months I was working on it. It was really important to develop my time management as I needed to make sure the project didn't affect my usual work.

Although it meant I was very busy, I was happy to do it as it was a great opportunity for self-development. Barclays is very flexible as to how much time you dedicate to community work so not everyone needs to commit to a similar level. Your involvement can be anything from sending a donation online to running your own initiative like I did. Ultimately, it depends on the individual.

What legacy has your project left?

Since the project finished, there's been some talk of running it again and possibly even turning it into an annual scheme. If you run a good community initiative, Barclays is very keen to provide ongoing support.

I'm very proud of what we accomplished. Everyone from managing directors at the bank to external stakeholders was relying on me to see the project through and make sure it was run correctly. I'm really glad I was given encouragement and support throughout and I'm very excited to see how it will run in 2014.

How can students get involved in volunteering work at university?

Every university usually has a charity committee or a charity representative as part of the students' union. Contact them and find out what projects are available, and if you have your own ideas then communicate them and hopefully you'll be given support.

It really helps your career prospects if you can talk in an interview about projects you've run as it will show you have the leadership qualities that major banks and major companies are looking for.