IFS Apprenticeship
IFS Apprenticeship

We caught up with Ulster Banks Elaine Warren and Fergus Gaughran for their input on the IFS Apprenticeship Programme

Elaine Warren, Learning consultant (Leadership, Talent and Capability Team, HR)


"Ulster Bank is delighted to be participating once again in the IFS Apprenticeship Scheme in 2021. The Scheme has provided us with the opportunity to champion potential and develop data capability in our organisation, a core capability that we need now and for the future.

Since we commenced our participation in the Scheme in 2017, we have provided colleagues the opportunity to complete the IFS Specialist Level 8 Apprenticeship. This nationally recognised qualification focuses on three key areas – data mining, data management and data analysis. The programme runs alongside the Apprentices’ day job and allows them to develop and utilise key skills in a real and practical environment. They are building valuable data skills, analytical knowledge and experience which will help them progress in their careers. The benefit for us as an organisation is that we have a continuous pipeline of highly skilled data practitioners, capable of delivering in analytical roles both now and into the future."

Fergus Gaughran, Head of Risk Analytics in Ulster Bank

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your company?

I’ve been in Ulster Bank six years and have been in banking for over a decade. Prior to this, I have twenty years full-time lecturing experience, lecturing in Mathematics. I studied in UCD and completed B.Sc. M.Sc. and Ph.D. qualifications in Mathematics.

Ulster Bank is an excellent company to pursue a career in finance. There are fantastic learning opportunities and a supportive Leadership and Capability team that enables this. Our collaboration with IFS Apprenticeships and the National College of Ireland, allows our people in Ulster Bank the opportunity to further their desired careers in data roles within the bank.

From an employer's perspective, what are the main advantages of the programme?

The Financial Services and Analytics Apprenticeship Programme is an excellent opportunity for staff to enhance their analytical skills in the area of finance. With off-the-job modules and on-the-job experience, the programme has been extremely successful for past pupils on my team who completed this course in recent years. The modules designed for the course include

Data Mining and Machine Learning, Data Management, Data Programming and Business Data Analysis. All of these are beneficial for apprentices who wish to progress a career in Analytics, whether in the area of Finance or another area. The remaining modules, Global Financial Markets 1 & 2 provide staff with an in-depth knowledge of the financial industry both nationally and internationally, enabling students to become financially literate.

What’s the profile of a typical apprentice?

A typical apprentice for this programme would be an individual with a keen interest in analytics and finance, somebody who is eager to upskill themselves in these areas with the hope of progressing their career in an analytical role or another role in the finance industry.

How does it work from the perspective of the apprentice?

The apprentices can be selected via two methods depending on the company. In Ulster Bank, we prefer to provide current staff members with the opportunity of upskilling them on their career journeys. By covering the additional cost and providing the apprentices with one day a week to study, these apprentices are more motivated to learn and upskill. Other companies hire apprentices externally and provide new candidates with this opportunity.
The apprentices from Ulster Bank valued the opportunity offered to them. They realised the benefits of on-the-job work experience while learning new skills and gaining new knowledge through off-the-job modules.

How did you first come across the Apprenticeship Programme and how did you get involved?

The Ulster Bank Academy, who specialise in learning and development, identified this course as being of interest to my team. They informed me of this programme three years ago and I put forward three members of my team for the course. I was heavily involved in the progress these students made and provided support to them on their journey.

What skills gap do the Apprenticeships fill?

In the ever-changing field of Data Analytics, apprentices will be introduced to new methods of handling data which may be on the future agenda for the bank. These apprentices will be experts in this area when these practices are introduced to the bank. A prime example of this, would be the migration of data to the cloud where coding languages such as Python, R and MYSQL will all be used frequently.

How do the apprentices find it?

The apprentices from Risk Analytics found the program extremely beneficial in shaping their career. Two of these apprentices have been promoted since they started the course. The apprentices learned new coding techniques, have become financially literate, learned project management skills, and have learned the importance of work reflection. The apprentices have become more confident in the workplace and continue to put their learned skills into practice. They have had the opportunity to make a network of connections outside of their current employer, which will be beneficial in their career long-term. These staff members feel appreciated, valued and motivated in the workplace.

What have been the key takeaways /learning experiences for you?

The importance of focusing on experience in the workplace, and not just on education. This programme is successful in covering both areas of learning.

The importance of reflection and how it is a great feedback mechanism for learning. The weekly reflections that the apprentices documented with regards to their on-the-job learning served as a great starting point for useful learning. It allows the apprentices to take a step back and help them to develop critical thinking skills and improve on future performance by analysing what they have learned and help them realise how far they’ve come on their career and education journey. This is now being practiced frequently in Ulster Bank.

What would you say to a company thinking about taking part in the programme?

The programme is an excellent opportunity to increase employee morale and job satisfaction, keep up with industry changes, increase capacity to adopt new technologies and methods in an ever-changing environment. It also allows the employer to provide internal promotion opportunities to upskilled staff, rather than hiring externally which can be costly and slightly risky. Allowing your staff to grow their skills internally also enhances the company’s image and reputation, enabling the company to attract new rising talents in the future.

“The course covered a wide range of programming languages from Python, R to SQL. I have been able to draw on the learnings from SQL and bring them to my role daily. It was good to get a look at other languages to see their capabilities and have a base knowledge on them should I need them in the future”.

- Martin Fogarty, Graduate 2020

“I found the course a real benefit to the students not only in terms of the technical data skills that they learned but also the documentation and project planning aspect set out clearly how to plan and deliver a project in a very practical way. The structure of the apprenticeship was good as it allowed me as the mentor to work closely with the students on the learning outcomes and allowed me to guide them along the way. The skills are very transferable to other sectors.

The projects were of benefit to the Bank as well as the student and I was keen to leverage as much of the apprenticeship as possible to be a value add for all.

The opportunity to be involved in education again was beneficial for both my own development and my team’s development as the skills the students gained are now benefitting the wider team. It also allowed me to benchmark my team’s development against other companies. I think the results the students achieved showcase the standards we coach analysts to in Ulster Bank”

- Thomas Durkan, Mentor