IT’S not only school-leavers who become apprentices. At the age of 23, having worked in the engineering industry, Chris joined Darlington Building Society as an Apprentice in September 2020.

Chris left college with four A Levels, and started as an apprentice with an engineering company. Unfortunately, family circumstances meant that he had to give up his place.  He soon returned to engineering, qualifying as a Quality Engineer, before Covid-19 took its toll, and he was made redundant last year.

Chris, who has a young daughter, was desperate to get back into work, and took a factory job on minimum wage while he looked for something more fulfilling.

He says: “I made it my full-time job to get a job, and was sending out more than 20 applications a day, including one for a place as a Customer Service Assistant Apprentice with Darlington Building Society.”

“I was invited to an assessment day, so I read up on the company, and I liked what I learnt. The company’s work ethic, morals, and projections really fascinated me.

“I’ve always enjoyed talking to people, and working with them to solve their problems, knowing that when they leave with a smile in their face that I’ve helped to do something good for them.

Darlington Building Society saw the potential in Chris, and he was offered a place on the apprenticeship.

The practical side of the apprenticeship with the Society is supplemented by one-day-a-fortnight classroom-based learning at Middlesbrough College, through Northern Skills Group, although this is currently being done online.

Chris is based in the Darlington branch and his day-to-day work is quite varied, including: answering customer queries, or getting information for them if he can’t help; assisting with setting up both in-branch and online accounts; dealing with the bereavement process if someone dies; customer transfers to other bank accounts; and setting up powers of attorney.

“There’s a lot going on that I didn’t expect at first, but it has been a pleasant surprise. I like to be active, and I like to keep learning. I like the variety,” he says.

Chris will also help out on the counter, when needed, and has spent time helping out in other branches, including Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle, and Northallerton. He’s what’s known as a ‘Rover’ – supporting branches when they are short-staffed.

“It’s good to visit other branches. It’s a chance to meet other people in the organisation and see how they work,” he says.

One-to-one monthly reviews are carried out with his line manager, and training is constantly reviewed to ensure that Chris is on track.

“I’m really enjoying the training, and Darlington Building Society is a great company to work with,” he says. “From day one, everyone was so supportive, and there’s always someone to speak to if you have any issues.

Andrew Craddock, Chief Executive of Darlington Building Society, said: “The theme of National Apprenticeship Week this year is “Build The Future” and that’s exactly what we are doing at Darlington Building Society, by investing in eight apprentices despite the global economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

“We passionately believe in growing our own talent – whether it is recruiting bright new people, or developing and promoting existing staff – and it is paying dividends in the high levels of customer care we are able to offer our members.

“The fact we have recently been given an “outstanding” two-star rating by Best Companies – reflecting strong staff engagement and satisfaction – is further evidence that our continuing investment in people is being recognised.”