With data demands growing in scale and complexity, London-based systematic investment managers Aspect Capital needed to support their specialists with new recruits. Thinking outside the box, they turned to apprenticeships.

Challenge: Data demands are growing in scale and complexity, stretching resources thin

Aspect Capital has been around since 1997 and is still growing, with $8.8bn of assets under management. While the firm has long been known for its mathematical or “quantitative” approach to trading, their data team is increasingly central to their operation. Director of Data, Waqar Rashid, discusses the challenges in the Data team.

“We work across the business, from Research to Trading to Legal and Accounts. It’s a huge workload that’s built up organically over time. While this is great for our team, it also means that  our specialist resources have to deal with all these different requirements, which is not always the most efficient use of their skillset.”

It’s not just demand for data that’s growing; data complexity is increasing too. “As data as a business is maturing, it’s making the whole landscape more complicated. We’re now dealing with the digitisation of economics, more vendors than ever, and brand-new legislation in the Data domain” says Waqar.

“Suddenly, data teams are having to look beyond just programming. It’s no longer about finding the fastest way to turn data into an algorithm. Now, we have to look at the data landscape more holistically, as a fundamental driver of important business processes.”

In light of this, the company started to consider what extra resource it needed to hire in the Data team, to ensure existing data specialists could focus on the tasks where their expertise is needed most. They decided to consider apprenticeships as a way of bridging the resource gap, and Multiverse was their first port of call.

Solution: Confront your bias and embrace hungry, young talent without a degree

At first, Waqar had his doubts about apprenticeships. “I’m busy enough in my role as a line manager”, was his first thought. But the HR team quickly allayed his fears.  They knew Multiverse’s programmes had been designed for busy managers and had just hired a Multiverse apprentice into their team to ensure they were leading from the front.  The business had apprentices in other support areas too – and they could see that Multiverse would be the right partner to offer ongoing support throughout the apprenticeship.

With HR and now Waqar on board, Aspect Capital worked with Multiverse to place apprentices in their business. “We now have Multiverse apprentices in Legal, Data and Trading support positions”, says Amanda Cherry, Director of Organisational Development. “They’re learning on the job and all contributing immensely to what we do.”

The process isn’t just a learning experience for the apprentices either, as Amanda explains. “It’s been really eye opening for us. We’ve definitely challenged our assumptions.”

“Historically, we’ve taken on grads or people with a couple of years of experience under their belt. To be honest, we’ve been prone to some intellectual bias. We’ve always thought that to do virtually any role here, you need a degree. But, when the roles are more administrative or junior, that’s just not the case.”

In fact, Amanda has seen the benefits of hiring younger people: “Excuse my turn of phrase, but you get a longer shelf life. The apprentices soak up so much information and they’re so positive about being given an opportunity to learn, rather than just itching to move up the corporate ladder. Even better, they’re trained in your way of thinking and doing”. She laughs, “that feels like the wrong thing to say.”

Waqar agrees “It’s a good thing! They pick up all the best habits right away.”

Waqar also believes that working in specialist businesses like Aspect is perfect for apprentices. “We’re a lot more focused than investment banks. That means our apprentices aren’t just small cogs in a big machine. They’ve been immersed in the whole process – and they’re really learning about Finance end-to-end across the full trading and value chain.”

One person certainly in agreement is data apprentice, Jessica Reay. After completing her programme with a distinction, she’s proud of everything she’s achieved at Aspect so far. “I felt like I was contributing right away, particularly when it came to automating some of our checks with Python.”

She couldn’t have done it without her Multiverse coach either. “With Marta, it was the little things that resonated. We talked about everything – not just tech. Although she was very helpful on that front too!”.

Jessica has now embarked on the next phase of her study at Multiverse as part of the Advanced Data Fellowship cohort. Jess continues to provide more and more value to Aspect each day. Additionally, she notes that “I can really see how my development will allow me to achieve my ambition to be a leader in the Data field in the future”.

It is certainly impressive seeing Jessica progress to date and we wish her the best of luck for the future – but luck has very little do with it. It is her hard work and motivation coupled with mentoring support from both her manager and Multiverse staff that is helping her succeed.  

Result: Apprentices embedded across the business – and plans in place for more

Aspect’s apprentices are already paying dividends, both in their roles and by freeing up the firm’s data specialists to put their talents to use. Amanda is delighted with the programme  – if a little envious…

“Multiverse put a huge amount of effort into helping us to recruit the right candidates – their 30-second video CVs are an easier way of seeing individual profiles than a traditional paper CV – and they are great at highlighting diverse candidates which is an important focus for us.  They do much of the filtering for us, making sure that the people we meet understand the role, are committed to an apprenticeship and are excited about starting a new job.  To be honest, if the apprenticeship scheme was around when I was 16 or 17, I’d have jumped at the chance. I’m a little jealous!”

She’s not the only one. “If I was starting out in the industry looking for an apprenticeship, this is the one I’d choose”, says Waqar. For him, the onboarding process and ongoing support have really stood out:

“As a manager, you first get a log-in to the Multiverse platform and that guides you through the whole process of looking after an apprentice. It’s really useful. The next thing that hits you is the people at Multiverse. They’re so nice and you can tell they want the best for both their candidates and for the companies they’re partnering with.”

With the apprentices embedded across the business, Amanda is looking to the future. “We’re hoping to get an apprentice in the front office, and perhaps someone to help on the change management side of things. We want people with T-shaped skills. That’s deep knowledge in a subject that can be applied broadly across the business. Data and project management are both hugely transferable skills so I think these are roles where apprenticeships might be really valuable.”

So, what would Amanda say to anyone out there weighing up whether apprentices are right for their business. “Give it a shot! In the unlikely event it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve tried. Just dismissing apprenticeships as something ‘we don’t do’ doesn’t make sense, that’s not progressive at all. I’m delighted we went for it and it is working out so brilliantly for us.”

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