8th July 2024

Inside AJ Bell's Award-Winning Apprenticeship Academy

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New Possible’s British Training Awards sets out to discover and celebrate the organisations that are truly passionate about L&Ds role in building a thriving workforce.

In our ‘Sharing Success’ series, we interview British Training Awards Winners to shine a light on the inspiring projects that are improving workplaces across the UK and beyond. In this article we talk to Angela Davies at AJ Bell, Winner of the 2024 ‘Financial Services Initiative of the Year’ category.

Introducing Angela Davies

Angela has been the Head of Learning and Development at AJ Bell since 2017. Angela’s remit covers the apprenticeship strategy right through to leadership and senior management development and everything in between such as overseeing in-house digital learning and a whole suite of face-to-face learning. This broad scope allows Angela to support the careers and personal development of AJ Bell’s employees at every stage.

About AJ Bell

AJ Bell was established in 1995 and has since grown to be a market-leading provider of investment products, services and information. Their head office is in Salford, Manchester and they have offices in London and Bristol. With over 1,400 employees and 500,000 customers, AJ Bell is a forward-thinking company that is constantly evolving to meet its customer’s needs.

AJ Bell Academy - the home of early careers

In September 2023, AJ Bell launched the AJ Bell Academy, a significant enhancement to the apprenticeship programmes it has been running for seven years. The Academy aims to provide apprentices with a sense of belonging and camaraderie, offering high standards of learning and a safe study environment. It includes pastoral care from a dedicated team of mental health first aiders and wellbeing ambassadors, along with additional learning support from qualified skills coaches and personal mentors.

Angela commented on the main objectives of the AJ Bell Academy: “Our objectives have always been to grow our own talent and create an environment where their experience as an apprentice kick-starts their career with AJ Bell. We didn’t want to lose sight of that, and we didn’t want their results and their experience to be impacted by the increase in numbers.

From within the Academy, apprentices have the support not only of each other but a dedicated team including an internal skills coach and well-being ambassador who is a trained mental health first aider. 

It prepares them for life ‘post apprenticeship’ because the relationships they have built continue after graduation. They have inadvertently learned to network across the whole business at every level, collaborate across departments and share ideas, far beyond what the apprenticeship programmes themselves can do.”

The Academy provides a comprehensive induction period, covering company and culture familiarisation, an introduction to the working environment, and meetings with senior leaders such as the CTO and CFO. The Mayor of Salford supported the Academy's launch, praising its initiative to support local youth. In November, AJ Bell also hosted an Apprenticeship Graduation Event to inspire Academy students by celebrating the successes of the apprentices who have gone before them.

When asked how the induction programme was structured, Angela said “The induction programme is structured with a mix of knowledge, skills, behaviours, company familiarisation, personal growth and self-exploration.

We talk a lot about the development of our business and technical knowledge around what we do and information around our regulators as a Financial Services organisation. We look at where our Guiding Principles come from and how that links into behaviours and the KSBs of whichever standard they are working towards. 

They go volunteering, networking with senior executives, meet their mentors and have time to explore topics such as self-awareness, time management, communication, and presentation skills.”

Challenging industry norms

The Academy focuses on building a diverse workforce and talent pipeline. To achieve this, AJ Bell conducted outreach efforts, including taking the Academy on tour and hosting the 'Academy at AJ Bell' event, which attracted over 75 students from various backgrounds. Notably, 44% of the 2023 intake were female versus less than 30% of the UK fintech workforce as a whole.

The recruitment process took almost a year, involving newsletters, keeping-in-touch calls, and check-ins to ensure recruits felt included and prepared. All 2023 recruits remain with the business, are highly engaged, and have shown significant progress, including passing exams. Recruitment for 2024 is already completed. Over 2000 applications were received resulting in 27 new apprentices ready to join in September, promising continued success for the AJ Bell Academy.

Judges praised ‘impressive results’, with one saying they ‘love the approach’.

What advice would Angela give to other organisations looking to implement a similar initiative?

Angela commented “Put the leg work in, ask questions and don’t be afraid to challenge perceptions”.

About New Possible

New Possible is the people insight platform that’s committed to your success. We work across a range of sectors to provide clear, actionable, and benchmarkable insights across the employee lifecycle. Our NP360 survey helps leaders gain meaningful insight into the broader people experience, measuring 7 themes, including satisfaction, culture, and wellbeing.

Read about our mission, or book a demo to learn more.

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