A forward-thinking reskilling project with NatWest

There is no doubt that technology-driven changes to working practices can cut business operational costs, increase efficiency and deliver incredible benefits to customers. However, this can come at the cost of employment as automation replaces jobs, and the loss of intangible human skills and knowledge built up by employees over many years of experience.

This has been an area of focus for the NatWest Group, where a number of employees were at risk of redundancy due to the closure of branches and increasing digitisation of functions. The Group were interested in testing whether some of these employees could be reskilled and redeployed as software engineers within the organisation, thereby avoiding the loss of talented staff with customer-facing knowledge, as well as supporting staff at a difficult time. The third phase of this reskilling programme—and the point at which MatchFit became involved—entailed developing a suite of learning resources via an app, to develop the software engineering skills of the reskillers.

Heading up this project on behalf of the bank was Damian Sellers, Head of Tech/Change Workforce Capability at NatWest Group. We spoke to him about the project, whether he thinks it’s been successful, and what it means for the future.

Firstly, we asked Damian how and why he became involved.

“My role involved heading up the tech capability stream of our workforce enablement in our services space. Services in NatWest covers a broad area, but it comprises most of the system support functions; so mainly tech and change. It employs 30,000 people—half the bank—and what we were trying to do is look at what today’s skills are, and then, in this rapidly changing world around us, what skills would be needed in the future and what the gap will be.

Banks are also changing massively and instead of being these big grey monoliths, we are all trying our best to be agile, digitally savvy, and digital-based across everything we do. Everything is changing around us and the workforce needs to change too.  

NatWest are a purpose-led bank as well. That’s the strategy under new CEO, Alison Rose, the first ever female CEO of a ‘big four’ bank. Climate, enterprise and learning are the focus of our purpose, which is to champion the potential of people, families and businesses.

What we were looking at in our capability stream was ‘how can we align everything so that we’re doing the right thing for our people’, because NatWest don’t want to be a bank that hires and fires.  They want to take the talent out of those parts of the organisation where roles are being automated or digitalised and retrain those people.

So one thing we did, amongst others, is to pilot an upskilling programme. We invited at-risk colleagues—people that had already been told they were going to be made redundant— to apply for one of 20 software engineering training places.

Applicants were assessed and interviewed, and then the successful candidates became a cohort of 20 to be reskilled into software engineering roles within the bank. It’s quite an investment for the bank, because it takes roughly nine months to train people and place them in the businesses. We started with a three-month software engineering bootcamp, which trained them in the fundamentals of software engineering, then another three months of self-led tailored learning, with access to learning materials. Then crucially—and this is where MatchFit came in—we also suggested the idea of the reskillers actually doing a builder project.

A builder project is a recognised term within this kind of learning space and within technology. In this instance, it was to work on an external application build for one of our customers on a ‘no regrets’ basis. So essentially our customer, MatchFit, potentially benefits from the app build, and the bank gets a risk-free training area to test the project participants’ skills and develop their confidence.”

What have been the outcomes?

“The actual outcome is that the reskillers have been brilliant. They’ve built the app, with full front to back coverage and it is going to be great!

There have been some terrific stories! I would get a presentation from the reskilling cohort every week, where they reported on what they’d done; how the sprints went. There are some amazing stories, and for some this has been life changing. People have been really worried about the way forward, but we had no age cap on the project and some people in their 50s have taken the plunge and decided to try and re skill as a software engineer, which I think is so brave!

And now the bank also benefits from the fact that all of these customer-savvy people who know the products, know the customers, demonstrate great behaviours and are about to be deployed into the mix with quite a homogenised group of software engineers. In general, this is still male-dominated, still very tech-focussed, they’re all come from the same STEM university background. We’ve added in some people with very different backgrounds and that is really going to shake things up in a positive way!”

How does the app work?

“The MatchFit CLIMB model itself starts with a review across all the workforce which looks at ‘how good are you at: commitment, leadership, intensity, motivation and belief’. There are similar lenses for the HUMAN and TEAM models as well. This is explored via a questionnaire, produced as an analysis and then recommendations can be made according to any issues highlighted, with the appropriate intervention delivered. This is usually done face-to-face, with whiteboards, and people in a room.

The task was to translate this to an app. We coded it so that teams can be set up within the app, team members can answer all those questions in the app and grade themselves one to 10 on the answers.  It then produces a result and gives tailored learning based on any development areas, in all of those different categories. A matrix calculates which learning content a person should be directed to according to their score, and that content might be a video, recommended reading or a task.

There’s also a manager view, so a manager can get an anonymised aggregate score for their team in each of those categories within the CLIMB, HUMAN, or TEAM model. That manager can then see whether there is an area of weakness, and MatchFit can be called in to do some targeted leadership training, for example.”

What have been the challenges?

“The matrix is quite a complex algorithm to actually figure out – it’s really intermediate training rather than beginner. So the challenge was whether our trainee software engineers could build something that was getting more and more sophisticated. There were the security elements of it, as well as things from a functional perspective, such as password resets, and ‘what happens if I want to take someone out of my team; someone leaves; I add someone to the team? How does someone actually get access to the application in the first place?’  

It was also a challenge for me, in a small team, and I had to ensure I could translate the MatchFit brief accurately, and consider all the complex technical scenarios.”     

What would you consider a successful outcome from this project?

 “From a NatWest perspective, a successful outcome is that their reskillers benefit from it. If they’ve learnt key skills, keep their skills fresh and develop themselves through building this app, then that’s all I really care about. There would be a sense of pride for them, however, if it goes live and they can log on as a user and see what they built.


Although the cohort are now being placed in their new business units across the bank, they will continue to work on the MatchFit for a minimum of 30% of their time for at least another three months, because they won’t all start coding straight away due to the critical nature of the systems they’ll be working on.

The internal goodwill that was generated off the back of this has been fantastic. NatWest CEO Alison Rose heard about what we were doing, and sent each of our reskillers a personal email. The feedback was great – everyone recognises that it’s brilliant that the bank is supporting their people in this way, and it aligns with NatWest’s strategy and focus.

It’s not been without cost, but measured against the financial—and human—costs of redundancy, it has proven to be a very sound investment.”