Meet The Apprentice
Afam Sadiku was only 17 when he joined Barclays as an apprentice – against the advice of his teachers. Seven years on, he reflects on his career at the bank, buying his first property at the age of 19 – and why you don’t need to go to university to begin a stellar career.
“When I was 16 I walked into Barclays’ Lord Street branch in Liverpool to open an account. It was a really impressive building and the staff were really nice. I thought: ‘You know what? I wouldn’t mind working here.’”
Afam Sadiku smiles as he remembers his first interaction with the bank that was to become his employer. Seven years on, he works with the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Team in Canary Wharf, London, having graduated from three Barclays apprenticeship programmes – and picked up a first-class honours degree in the process.
“It’s funny how big a difference one day can make,” he says. “I was chatting to the bank manager who suggested I look into the Barclays apprenticeship scheme, as it was a great way to work and gain qualifications at a young age.”
For Sadiku, that information was the first step in a new direction. Although still at school, when he turned 17 he decided to leave full-time education and pursue a career with the bank. It was a bold choice, and one for which Sadiku says he received very little support.
“The problem I found at school is there was far too much pressure on going to university and I didn’t want to do that. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I thought it was too expensive – how could I justify spending £9,000 a year?”
Afam spoke to his parents, who he says knew little about apprenticeships and were naturally apprehensive about him leaving school before completing his A-Levels. The biggest challenge, however, came from the teachers at his school.
“So I had an awkward conversation with my teachers, and they more or less told me that leaving at 17 would hinder my career massively. They were closed-minded, and they were wrong, and I’m glad I made that choice.”
After leaving sixth form, Sadiku was accepted onto the Personal Banker Apprenticeship scheme in his hometown of Liverpool, UK – a programme he describes as “the perfect blend of what I was looking for”.
“It was great to enter the corporate world at such a young age,” he says. “I learnt so much in such a short space of time, like how to build relationships and interact with customers.”
After his 12-month apprenticeship, Sadiku moved onto his second apprenticeship and next challenge: a Level 3 NVQ in Management, which saw him take on a significant level of responsibility very early on.
“I was literally responsible for 18 premier bankers. It taught me a lot about leadership, how to motivate people, and how to make personal connections with my colleagues. It also opened my eyes to how different everyone’s style of working is, and how it was my responsibility to adapt to that.”
Upon completing his second Barclays apprenticeship, and after a period working as a Premier Relationship Manager, Sadiku decided to apply for his third and final apprenticeship, a Higher Apprenticeship in Leadership and Management – a three-year course that would see him move across the UK and gain a university degree.
“My final apprenticeship was broken into three parts. Workplace rotations, a BA honours degree through Anglia Ruskin University and an accreditation through the Chartered Management Institute – both of which the bank paid for. I’ve only just got my degree results, and I’ve graduated with first-class honours.”
It’s a hugely proud moment for Sadiku, not least because it justifies his choice not to go to university, despite the pressure he faced.
“I strongly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I am now if I went to university,” he says. “Through Barclays’ apprenticeships, I’ve been able to earn money and my education has been totally free.
“In the three years I would have spent at university, I’ve got my degree and have been able to invest the money I’ve saved into my own property business. It was through those savings that I was able to buy my first house at 19 – and I’ve since bought two more.”
It’s quite an achievement for someone of Sadiku’s age, and something he puts down to his desire and motivation to succeed.
“I like to think I’m a very motivated guy,” he explains. “And that motivation pushes me to be strategic with my thinking. I’m very much focusing on the next 10-20 years, and how my hard work now is going to pay off then.”
“Keep an open mind”
In Sadiku’s current position as CRM Manager, he is responsible for adapting internal processes for colleagues across the bank. “In a nutshell, my job is about building systems that make work life as easy as possible for others throughout the business,” he explains.
Another key aspect of Sadiku’s role is to spend time visiting schools and university fairs, offering advice to young people who find themselves in similar positions to him. No matter who he speaks to, his message is always the same.
“I meet loads of young people, and the main thing I tell them is to keep an open mind,” he says. “It’s important to understand that you don’t have to go to university. Through Baclays apprenticeships you can gain exactly the same experiences, and get paid to do so. It’s hard work, but at the age of 21 you can find yourself in a really strong position.”
For Sadiku, it’s important to work for a company that is passionate about helping others – something he says he’s seen during his time at Barclays.
He explains: “I really appreciate working for an organisation that is dedicated to having a positive impact on the society around it. A few years ago, my local church in Liverpool needed over £300,000 to fix a collapsed roof. Myself and nine other Barclays colleagues helped raise £10,000 through sports fundraisers, and Barclays offered to match it.
“It was an amazing feeling to see the difference our money made, and I’ve since been appointed as a Director at that church.”
Having achieved so much, so young, what’s next for Afam? Where does he see himself in ten years?
“I’m really excited to see what happens. When you’re working for a company like Barclays, the opportunities are endless. I’ve already worked all over the UK, and I’d love the chance to work for the bank in one of our overseas offices. Imagine being in New York, or Hong Kong – now that would be cool.”