J.P. Morgan only lets a fraction of graduates applying for a role in its corporate and investment bank through the door. Only 2% of applicants make it into a front office positions and the numbers fighting for place on its summer internship programme – the most obvious route into a full-time role – were up by 50% this year compared to two years ago.
But there’s an alternative route into the U.S. bank. J.P. Morgan has extended its apprenticeship programme, aimed at A-level students, into the front office for the first time this year. It’s also been hiring more apprentices – the number of places on offer is up 30% on 2016 and it has started recruiting for its office in Canary Wharf. Previously, it only hired apprentices in Bournemouth and Glasgow.
“We’ve had a 99% conversion rate into full-time employment,” says Phill Paige, head of early years at J.P. Morgan. “This isn’t about ticking boxes for a government programme, but another way for us to uncover talent. We’ve taken on more apprentices than we planned to because the feedback from managers has been so good.”
J.P. Morgan is pushing into apprenticeships at a time when numbers are tumbling across the UK. Since a new scheme was launched in April, numbers of trainees have fallen by 59%, with critics suggesting that increased costs and complexities are deterring employers from creating roles. 48,000 people started an apprenticeship in the three months to July 2017, down from 117,800 in the same period last year.
J.P. Morgan’s numbers are tiny by comparison. The bank has hired around 70 apprentices in 2017, 40 of which were in its Bournemouth office, where it employees around 4,000 people in technology and operations roles. This is up 30% on 2016. It’s also taken on 17 people in London for its apprenticeship programme, up from an initial target of 10. Applications for 2018 were scheduled to be open until early next year, but places are already filled.
Predictably, competition is tough. J.P. Morgan does not provide application figures, but says that the numbers are up 22-fold since it launched apprenticeships in 2013. It’s easy to assume that the bank just cherry-picks A* students, but Paige insists that this is not the case. The basic requirements are three C grades at A-level and a grade C or above at GCSE maths and English.
“Most of the candidates go through a similar recruitment process to the graduates we hire,” he says. “We’re realistic – someone coming out of sixth form is not going to be the finished article. It’s as much about attitude as aptitude, we want people who are hungry and keen to learn.”
Apprenticeships have gained traction in the banking sector in recent years and are an alternative entry point into a very competitive industry. HSBC runs its apprenticeship scheme in its global banking and markets business, and has extended it into France, Barclays runs them across finance, audit, risk and technology. Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, launched a ‘degree apprenticeship’ for its technology division last year – a four-year programme that offers A-level students the chance to gain a degree and complete an apprenticeship at the bank.
J.P. Morgan says that it screens initial applications and then invites successful candidates to a video interview, where they’re given two minutes to respond to a series of pre-recorded competency-based interview questions. There are also a series of insight evenings, posited as informal networking opportunities, but which are actually crucial to filtering out people for the final round – an assessment centre and series of in-person interviews.
“Candidates are invited to a freeform networking event with senior managers – it’s not a speed-dating-style night – and get to spend hours approaching and questioning people at J.P. Morgan,” says Paige. “It means that we get notes from eight managers on potential hires.”
Paige says that extending the apprenticeships into the front office is an experiment, which could be expanded if it goes well. J.P. Morgan is also considering expanding the programme beyond the UK and into Continental Europe.
Josh Luff, an apprentice who works in securitised products trade support within J.P. Morgan’s investment bank, says that the bank does not expect its young recruits to know everything. “It sounds simple, but be honest and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the best way forward,” he says. “Never be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t know, ask. Don’t try to blag the question.”