Bob Silk: “It’s a hand up, not a hand-out”
Bob Silk, a Relationship Director for clients in the hospitality sector, is dedicated to helping people into employment through Barclays’ Connect with Work and AFTER programmes. We hear how Bob, a ‘highly commended’ recipient in Barclays’ Citizenship and Diversity Award, helps bridge the gap between clients in need of motivated employees and jobseekers looking for a “hand up”.
A badly timed motorbike accident in his teens nearly put paid to Bob Silk’s career. His father had recommended that the 16-year-old join Barclays Bank as a ‘job for life’, but the crash meant he couldn’t complete his studies.
“I did a deal with the interviewer; if I got the job, I promised that by the end of my first year I’d have gained the minimum entry qualifications and would have started my professional examinations, or they could sack me,” he recalls. “They thought about it and took me on.”
“And so I have a deep loyalty to Barclays for that. They took a chance on me, and maybe what I’m doing is getting other companies to take a chance on people who don’t fit the official bill.”
Paying it forward
Bob’s father was right about Barclays providing a job for life. Bob has now spent 40 years at the bank and the last 22 dealing with hotels, restaurants and pub companies in his role as Relationship Director.
It can be a complex role but in essence, he explains, “I lend money for a living.” It’s the effort he’s put in behind the scenes, though, that has netted him his recent accolade – a commendation for ‘colleagues in the community’ in the Barclays Citizenship and Diversity Awards.
The award reflects the fact that, over and above offering traditional banking services, Bob has worked tirelessly to help those who struggle to find employment back into the workplace, through two key programmes run by Barclays – Connect with Work and AFTER.
“My main role is that I’m a facilitator. I drop into a conversation with my customer ‘how are you handling the labour challenge in your business’ and if they tell me it’s difficult, then I say ‘I think we can help you with that’.”
This was an opportunity to do some good – both for our customers and for people who want and need to get into work
Relationship Director, Barclays
Family experience first drew him to the AFTER programme, which is focused on helping those who have been in the military back into employment. His father served throughout the Second World War in Dunkirk, the Western Desert, Cyprus, Sicily and Normandy. “He got demobbed in 1945 and was left to his own devices, and I think he found it quite difficult,” Bob remembers.
“If I’d served and then moved into ‘Civvy Street’, I’d like to think someone would be around to help me make that transition.”
Bob then became aware of Connect with Work through Kevin Jennings, the ex-RAF officer who runs the programmes in the UK and Europe and started to work with this programme as well. Connect with Work partners with charities like Springboard, The Prince’s Trust and Catch22, all of which have access to people who are having difficulty entering or re-entering employment. Barclays provides employability skills training along with mentoring and proactive help from Bob and his colleagues, and connects people to businesses that are recruiting.
Catering to commercial needs
This has resulted in many triumphs. Bob, who has become a trustee of the charity Springboard, cites the bank’s relationship with restaurant company Nando’s as an example.
“I recall having a conversation with Nando’s, and talking to their Chief Executive and saying to him ‘can you help me to do some good, and open a door to talk to your HR Director?’“ he says. “We outlined Connect with Work to them and how we have an extensive programme that we’re delivering along with our charitable partner, Springboard, which helps disadvantaged young people into work in the industry.
“We now have an extensive programme with Nando’s. Even before any new sites or business growth, they need to recruit 9,000 people a year – and that’s with a retention rate that’s comparatively high for its sector. Nando’s has historically recruited 0.1% of those 9,000 from people who face barriers to employment. It wants to increase that to 10% and we’re helping them do it.”
Bob describes Connect with Work as “an unambiguously good thing”.
“On the one hand you have people who are facing barriers to getting into work, and on the other hand, customers are facing challenges around recruitment. Staff turnover in the hospitality and leisure sector is always incredibly high. So, I thought that this was an opportunity to do some good – both for our customers and for people who want and need to get into work. It’s a hand up not a hand-out.”
He adds that the hotel, pub and restaurant trade, his areas of expertise, is particularly suited to those people who might have an unconventional job history or a lack of traditional qualifications: “The hospitality industry is an absolute meritocracy. You don’t need to have a degree and a master’s to progress, you need the right attitude and aptitude, and people can forge a very worthwhile career for themselves.”
Bob says that day-to-day flexibility at Barclays allows him to make the difference. “I’m in the fortunate position, given the job that I do, of being in control of my own diary. Within the bounds of reason if I want to take two days out to help deliver a CV and interview skills workshop for military leavers, I can do that. If I want to take a little time to have a coffee with someone I’m trying to help, I can do that. The quid pro quo is that I need to deliver on the day job. That’s a fair deal!”
As a result, he says, he’s been privileged to make many connections and see many successful outcomes.
“If I had been in prison and was seeking to go straight, I’d like to think someone would help me. It’s a values thing and it strikes me as the right thing to do.”