I recently had the pleasure of meeting a group of apprentices in Insurance, and was blown away by their enthusiasm and passion for the Co-op, so I wanted to share what I’ve learned from our new colleagues.
The group I met were aged from 16 to 36 and came to us through different routes – some from our academies, some from full-time jobs in other areas of the Co-op, and some through an open external application. This is really encouraging as it shows that our apprenticeships are in demand from a wide range of people. The fact that colleagues who already have full-time jobs are interested in an apprenticeship shows what a great package our apprentices get – we pay the full going rate for a job rather than the £3+ an hour apprenticeship rate, and they get training and support too. Very few employers offer this, so I think this is another brilliant example of our Co-op difference in action.
Co-op values are important too
I asked the apprentices what they liked about being here, and of course money came up. Some of the 16-18 year old apprentices were earning more money than they ever had in their lives, and were overwhelmed by it at first. But they get advice and support from their apprenticeship mentors, and many talked about saving and pensions, and even paying their parents a bit towards bills – so they’re learning some fantastic life skills too.
It isn’t just about money though. The apprentices that came from Co-op Academies already had a good idea about our values and principles and the campaigns we work on (they talk in lessons about Fairtrade and Modern Slavery and they understand about our democracy and structure). They knew they wanted to start their careers here – which is a real compliment.
Of the apprentices that came from an external route, most knew some things they’d heard from their parents or relatives – that the Co-op is a big organisation, with lots of different businesses and good ethical policies, and many said that they were attracted by these good stories – again an encouraging sign. Some of them thought an apprenticeship here would be smart as they could possibly move sideways and work in a different business area one day, while staying in the Co-op family. Again I was impressed as not many people make such strategic decisions in their teens – I don’t think I did!
On the whole we’re getting things right
We had a really good chat and they were open and honest about what could be improved about apprenticeships – some of their feedback is already being worked on. On the whole they were incredibly positive about their experience though – with most saying many of their friends were now curious about apprenticeships at the Co-op – some even wishing they’d applied for one.
At the end of our meet and greet, I was asked what advice I could give them about their careers. I gave them these three pointers which I hope they found helpful:
- Network – find colleagues in your area (helps if they’re people you get on with) and stay in touch as you might be able to help each other and co-operate
- Believe in yourself – when I first started out I questioned myself a lot (there were very few female role models) – but I quickly learned that I was as good as others, and learned to take chances and say yes to opportunities, even if scary
- Try and keep some work-life balance. It isn’t always easy, especially at the start, but now I make a point of scheduling quality time with my family – and trying not to look at my phone when I’m with them.
Apprenticeship plans for 2018
Our ambition is to train over 1,000 apprentices in 2018. There will be opportunities in all our business areas including Food, Funeralcare and Insurance as well as roles in our Support Centre in Digital, HR, Finance and IT.
We’ll continue to strengthen our links with our Co-op Academies Trust, identifying apprenticeship career pathways for the students, so that their Co-op education can lead to a fulfilling career here.
In addition, we’re working with external stakeholders feeding into government discussions to ensure that the apprenticeship reforms lead to programmes that are fit for purpose and accessible.