Barclays Dare to Be: Enhancing Employment Skills in Singapore

May 1, 2018 8:35 AM ET

Originally published on Barclays Citizenship

Emma Guy and Anubhav Mehrotra helped create the Dare To Be programme in Singapore. The eight-week programme, delivered by Barclays in partnership with non-profit organisations, supports young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their work skills and job prospects. The co-founders tell us about the satisfaction they get from widening students’ horizons.

Since the first Dare To Be programme launched in Singapore five years ago, approximately 250 Barclays colleagues have volunteered, supporting 120 students on a journey to discover their potential. Two volunteers who know more about the programme than anyone are Emma Guy, Asia Head of CIB Operations, and Anubhav Mehrotra, VP, Strategic and Regulatory Change, who set up Dare To Be in 2013

“A group of us wanted to do something to support local communities, but also add value to those communities,” says Emma. “We started thinking ‘How do we use the skills we have to give someone else better opportunities?’ We wanted to create something that had longer-term value too, not just a series of evening classes.”

Finding the right people to take part in the programme would be key to its success. Anubhav says: “We started brainstorming: what would the beneficiaries of the programme look like? Barclays was already working with students from universities, but we felt there was a gap in the work we could do with polytechnic students, who have fewer internship and graduate opportunities. So that’s where we started.”

To ensure the programme attracted people from a mix of cultures and ethnicities, the team began reaching out to self-help groups in Singapore that work with students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Groups like  the Chinese Development Assistance Council and MENDAKI – which supports the Malay/Muslim community – then encouraged students to apply for the Dare To Be programme. The team has also worked with with the Singapore Indian Development Association and the Eurasion Association.

“That first year, we had a very small group of 10 students. But the overwhelming enthusiasm from everyone involved – both staff and students – made us want to keep the programme going forward,” says Emma. This year, Dare To Be is supporting 25 students and there are plans to run the programme twice a year in future in order to extend the opportunities to even more students.

The programme is split into three modules. The first involves training sessions that take part in the evenings, covering an introduction to investment banking, as well as practical skills like CV writing and job interview techniques. For the second module, each student is assigned a mentor to whom they can ask questions about careers and working life. Anubhav says: “This relationship often lasts beyond the lifetime of the programme – not just over the six weeks, but in the years to come.”

This second module also involves a speaker series – where members of senior management give talks about their careers and the challenges they’ve faced – and networking sessions. “These are good fun, but also good exposure for the students to learn how to present themselves in a professional environment: what to wear, how to talk, how to engage with senior colleagues,” explains Emma.

The third module is a six-week work placement at Barclays across the Operations departments. Students are given different goals that they need to achieve during their time with the bank. “We don’t just select students based on an academic perspective, but from an enthusiasm perspective too,” says Anubhav. “So, a student that shows a lot of enthusiasm is more likely to be accepted than someone just with good grades.”

A lot of thought goes into constructing the students’ work placements. “Six weeks is quite a short period of time, so everybody involved ensures the experience is a rewarding one for students,” says Anubhav. “The staff think about what they want to get out of their work-place student, and the student is given a proper project to do. This gives them a real sense of accomplishment, that they have actually achieved something.”

This final module may be the most important in terms of the students’ development. Emma says: “It’s a good introduction to what professional life is really like; getting into work on time, working in an environment with very busy people, learning how to ask questions and get the right answers.”

The students also have to give a presentation at the end of the placement about their time with Barclays. Emma says: “Their presentations are always amazing. It’s incredible watching them transform over such a short period of time. Previously they wouldn’t raise their hands in class, but now they’re giving very powerful and competent presentations.”

The feedback from students shows the difference that Dare To Be is making. “They tell us that had they not gone through the programme, they would never have been able to feel comfortable in a professional environment,” says Anubhav. “Many of our students would be peeling garlic and onions in a food court. But getting experience in an international investment bank sets them up for success.”

Barclays Singapore also runs a government-supervised apprenticeship programme. For the first time in 2017, students who had been through Dare To Be were accepted onto this apprenticeship scheme. Emma says: “We have a good success rate of converting apprentices into permanent staff. So we have high hopes that some of our Dare To Be candidates will go on to be permanent members of staff.” Anubhav adds: “That would be the real success of the programme – that they apply to Barclays and get a permanent role.”

Emma and Anubhav plan to expand the Dare To Be programme within Barclays, offering students work placements within other departments such as finance, human resources or technology, but Emma is keen to encourage other firms in Singapore to take up the initiative. She says: “There’s so much potential in these students, but there are simply not enough opportunities out there for them. And it’s not just the students who benefit. Dare To Be has been good for Barclays and for me personally – it’s a lovely feeling to be able to give back to the community that I now call home.”