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Bank Apprenticeships 2.0: Online Classrooms and Language Stays

On-the-job training (OJT) at a bank today is hardly comparable to how it was 20 years ago. In keeping with the times, Credit Suisse allows Young Talents coach Michael Seibold to develop fresh ideas.

For Louise Brun, the orientation week was the perfect introduction to her career since it provided trainees with an initial overview of their duties and areas of responsibility during their forthcoming "apprenticeships." More than anything else, the orientation arouses attendees' curiosity about the days that lie before them. Louise Brun confirms: "I could hardly wait to finally get started and put all that theory into practice!" Louise didn't have to wait very long. During their second week on the job, the Young Talents are already performing everyday duties – working at the counter, processing payment transactions, and advising clients. For the 18‑year-old, her OJT began as a staff client advisor in Zurich. She says, "I was immediately facing issues that I had neither heard of nor read about until then. It was a difficult situation, but the accommodating and helpful nature of my coworkers and mentor made my initial training much easier."

Challenging Program with Extensive Guidance

During their three-year, dual-track apprenticeships as bank clerks, the trainees rotate between taking classroom training at a vocational school, learning practical skills on the job, and obtaining knowledge of the industry at the Center for Young Professionals. It is an enormous challenge to meet all the requirements at each of the three places of learning while still finding time for friends, family, and hobbies. Louise Brun knows what it's like. She describes it as a series of conflicting priorities that should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, that is precisely what has made her apprenticeship exciting and enriching to this very day, she says. During this stressful time, Louise Brun and all the Young Talents at Credit Suisse receive support from a department for trainees, the Young Talents Team. For Michael Seibold, who personally mentors over 70 apprentices, it is a key component of his duties. "As a human resources consultant, it is important for me to give trainees the tools they need in order to learn to deal with these new and strict requirements." Louise Brun is also grateful for the assistance. She says it helps her to stay on track in her apprenticeship.

Events and Volunteering for Networking and Team Building

Besides serving as personal mentors, the Young Talents Team also organizes events and training seminars throughout the apprenticeship to help the apprentices get to know one another better and enable them to take the next step. For example, the entire team gathered to volunteer for the Bergwaldprojekt (Mountain Forest Project). The event is generally perceived as a very welcome relief from the daily office routine and as a good opportunity to establish valuable contacts with other trainees. According to Michael Seibold, the two events called Halftime and Future Day are, by contrast, more job- and training-related: "At Halftime, the apprentices are supposed to realize how much they have achieved and accomplished. Taking a look back fills many of them with pride." The Future Day, on the other hand, is meant to contribute to the Young Talents' later professional development. This event is very near and dear to Michael Seibold. He explains: "We can show them paths and opportunities within Credit Suisse and help them plan their future careers."

Demand for New Solutions

Over the past few decades, the bank's mentoring handbook has not only gotten a lot thicker, it has also kept pace with the requirements of the time. In just the past couple of years, the needs of young people have changed dramatically, and it raises the question of whether OJT can be tailored to Generation Y even further. If you examine the results published in the Youth Barometer, the things that are really important to young people quickly become apparent: constant communication via smartphones, blogs, and chatrooms. Work and lifestyle must remain balanced. They attach great significance to meeting friends and achieving self-fulfillment at a young age. Information is often procured through free newspapers instead of sustainable journalism. Trends are increasingly shaped by tools of communication. To what extent does Credit Suisse incorporate these factors into the ongoing optimization of its career training? What else could be integrated into its apprenticeships?

Virtual Learning Is on the Rise

So that it doesn't miss the ideal moment, Michael Seibold ponders these questions on the bank's behalf. He has already developed several ideas and gotten feedback on them from the Young Talents: "We are currently examining whether to offer apprentices a platform that will enable them to network virtually as well. They could ask questions about their training in a special chatroom, and they could message the Young Talents Team directly with any questions about the platform. All the information could be obtained from the platform." He says this idea has been very well received by the apprentices. Louise Brun sees even more possibilities: "Joining different interest groups would give us trainees the option of organizing our own events and field trips! It would also make it a lot easier to search for study groups on specific subjects." Thus, the offering would be completely suited to the needs and media usage of today's young people. Michael Seibold takes the idea of a "virtual world" even further. He would also like to provide apprentices with online subscriptions to key business magazines, because that would enable them to acquire more information in context. Louise Brun confirms that this would have huge added value for their final apprenticeship examination, adding, "We read things like that only when they are available to us anywhere and anytime. That makes online media the perfect choice!"

Personal Contact Remains Important

For Louise Brun and other Young Talents, the application of media also has its limits. That's why they view Michael Seibold's suggestion to take many of the study units previously covered in a classroom setting and teaches them via smartphone or tablet (a flat, portable computer with a touchscreen) as less than ideal. Louise Brun explains why: "The lessons would be too severely limited to an online exchange of opinion. I feel that personal contact is very valuable and find it exciting to learn how solutions can be worked out between members of a team." However, shared experiences are not the only things important to her. She also values discussions with people from different cultures who speak a different language. "I find it extremely enriching to learn and use different languages!" Michael Seibold has heard this need more than once, which is why he has come up with another idea in that area. He would like to make it possible for trainees to spend a semester in French-speaking Switzerland so they can not only improve their skills in French but also have one more experience to broaden their horizons. Conversely, a Young Talent from Geneva could get to know Switzerland's financial center, improve his or her knowledge of German, and work in an unfamiliar unit of the bank. This exchange would ultimately benefit the bank too.

Maintaining Standards and Raising the Bar

When you examine today's standard of training at Credit Suisse, in particular the period following an employee's apprenticeship at the bank, the numbers speak for themselves. In August 2013, 82 percent of apprentices remained with Credit Suisse and began their careers in a front office or back office department. The majority of the remaining 18 percent of program graduates either went on to obtain their vocational matriculation examination certificate by studying full-time or chose to do a language stay abroad. Michael Seibold sees these results as validation that the bank is on the right path. He explains why: "The figures confirm that we are doing everything right when it comes to selecting, mentoring, and placing trainees following their apprenticeships. Credit Suisse's culture and values, plus the depth and content of the training, meet with high approval. However, in order for us to keep finding the best Young Talents on the market, we are making every effort to maintain our high standards of quality in training and raise them even higher." For instance, the teaching model has been continuously adapted to meet the needs of our young people and positioned on the market as being even more exclusive and unmatched. The attitude shown by employees like Michael Seibold proves that Credit Suisse is an attractive employer. "The times – and, with them, the demands made of employers – have changed rapidly over the past several years. All of us on the team want to keep pace with the times, which is why we do our best to constantly move forward. That is exactly why we find our task extremely exciting and enriching, and we live by every aspect of our team's motto: "We grow talents."