“Becoming an apprentice was the best decision I could have made”
Natalie Ojevah, LawTech Ecosystem Manager at Barclays Eagle Labs, tells us how the bank’s apprenticeship scheme helped her establish her career after a difficult start, including becoming a young carer for her mother – and why she is contributing to an inclusive culture at the bank.
Having completed her first year of A-Levels, she knew the traditional education route wasn’t for her: “I was going through a lot of personal difficulties including bereavement and I wasn’t in the right place for education – I needed something more.”
The Barclays apprenticeship scheme meant Natalie could earn a salary working as a cashier in her local branch in Woolwich, south-east London, develop her skills and still earn qualifications. “The practical aspect of the scheme really benefited me,” she says.
Natalie has now worked in seven different roles across the bank and won numerous awards, including Best Higher Apprentice for London at the National Apprenticeship Awards in 2016. She is also one of the brains behind the Barclays Black Founder Accelerator, a 12-week virtual programme helping black-founder led tech businesses to grow and scale.
Looking back on her career beginnings, she describes being a Barclays apprentice as “so powerful”, adding: “It’s like creating your own network and it’s the same network that I carry eight years on.”
“There’s a drive for apprentices to become future leaders”
Natalie says the scheme opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in financial services – something that without it, she would not have considered.
Before I joined the programme, I thought that I didn’t fit the corporate bank because I don’t necessarily look how you imagine bankers to look. Then when I came into the business, those preconceptions were completely blown out of the water and I felt like I could be whoever I wanted to be.
LawTech Ecosystem Manager at Barclays Eagle Labs
“Before I joined the programme, I thought that I didn’t fit the corporate bank because I don’t necessarily look how you imagine bankers to look,” she explains. “Then when I came into the business, those preconceptions were completely blown out of the water and I felt like I could be whoever I wanted to be.
“I come from a one-parent household, I had free school meals, my brother passed away and my mum suffered with her mental health, so I was her carer. Statistically, people wouldn’t think I would be in the position I am now.”
A year after joining the apprenticeship scheme, Natalie moved on to the Barclays higher apprenticeship programme, enrolling onto a Business Management and Leadership degree at Anglia Ruskin University, paid for by Barclays, while she completed a rotation of work experience placements throughout the bank.
“That really elevated me and allowed me to move from the branch network to more regional work,” she says. “There was a real drive and a real backing from the business around developing apprentices to be the future leaders.”
Now she’s determined to spread the message that anybody can work in banking: “I want to show other people that you can come from the same background as me and really excel in a corporate environment. I loved being an apprentice, I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it was probably the best decision I could have made as my young, naive self.”
Backing black entrepreneurs
Natalie says she has always looked for ways to support her community, and now brings that focus into her role at Barclays Eagle Labs, the bank’s national network for high-potential startups, where she’s focused on supporting entrepreneurs who have created platforms to pivot the legal industry.
I want to show other people that you can come from the same background as me and really excel in a corporate environment. I loved being an apprentice, I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it was probably the best decision I could have made as my young, naive self.
LawTech Ecosystem Manager at Barclays Eagle Labs
As the lead on Black and ethnically diverse activity for Barclays Eagle Labs, she helps ensure the founders it identifies and supports come from a range of backgrounds. “I haven’t felt that level of responsibility before, where I can really make a change,” she says.
Her efforts have paid off, with the Eagle Labs launching its Diversity and Inclusion pillars, which look at tackling diversity and inclusion for entrepreneurs, and its Black Founder Accelerator – something Natalie describes as “my proudest workplace accomplishment”.
She adds: “People from diverse backgrounds can bring so many different aspects to the table culturally, which is really important. That’s especially true for a business like Barclays, because our customers are so diverse. We need to reflect that in-house through our own diverse workforce. We want to ensure that black businesses and black individuals feel supported by Ventures, and open that door to wider integration.”
“It definitely gave me the drive to continue trying to better myself”
Natalie says the sheer range of career opportunities available is a major advantage of working for the bank: “The role you start off on can be completely different in three or four years.”
She gains inspiration from the Eagle Labs’ innovative approach which gives colleagues the “flexibility” to launch their own projects. The most valuable lesson she’s learned? Communication. “During the last year of my degree programme my mum fell very ill,” she says. “I was living with her at the time and hadn’t made it known that I was a carer. It wasn’t something I was immensely comfortable with. I had to learn to communicate and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned – when you need help, ask for it.”
Natalie was one of six Barclays colleagues to win a WeAreTheCity Rising Star award in 2020, which showcases the pipeline of female talent in the UK, and says the award gave her the “stamp of recognition” that she needed to keep pushing herself.
“It definitely gave me the drive to continue trying to better myself and do what I can for the community,” she says.
“It confirmed to me that what I’m doing is the right thing. The team I work with are looking at programmes that might not have been thought of without someone from my background. Being the mouthy, south-east London girl is paying off, and that makes me really proud.”