By Lakota Penny, Store Manager, Sedgefield store

I left school at 16 with few qualifications and no real clue with what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I needed to get a job, but I didn’t know how I’d be able to make a career for myself with just my GCSEs.

Luckily, at 17, I joined Co-op as a Customer Team Member – they took a chance on me even though I had little experience to show. I fell in love with Co-op very quickly and I knew this was somewhere I could make something of myself. I threw myself into my work, loving every second, and within my first year I was promoted to Team Leader.

My commitment to the job apparently didn’t go unnoticed, as I was nominated for the Level 3 Food Apprenticeship by my Store and Area Managers. Even though I thought I’d never return to education, I was extremely excited about the apprenticeship scheme as it focused on something I loved doing and something I was good at.

Whilst on the apprenticeship scheme I got involved in lots of different (and fun) things. Some of my highlights were taking part in Divisional Managing Director Peter Batt’s Apprentice Summer Sporting Challenge, and I got to make Chris Whitfield, Retail Chief Operating Officer, a winning cocktail after my final presentation. I also met several people who gave me a greater understanding of progression within Co-op, and helped me see my work as an actual career rather than just a job.

I continued to work hard throughout my apprenticeship and I was more inspired than ever. I was also promoted to Team Manager during this time!

At 21 years old and after four years at Co-op, I graduated from my apprenticeship in October last year, and I’m now a Store Manager of a Store of Excellence. I’m so incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved and how far I’ve come. I couldn’t have done this without the support, encouragement and the backing of my colleagues and managers.

As Adult Learners Week comes to a close, I want to remind everyone that you have the ability to achieve your goals, you just need to be confident and throw yourself in at the deep end. Learning on the job can feel daunting, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. With some hard work and determination, the sky’s the limit!

If you’d like to find out more about apprenticeships, there’s lots of information available on the apprenticeship portal on the jobs board.

Join the conversation! 13 Comments

  1. Fantastic story Lakota, and it was a pleasure meeting you up in Angel Square and completing CMI with you! I’ve a feeling you’re going to go a long way!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Lakota, I joined retail to earn some money before going into higher education, needless to say 27 years later I am still waiting to go but have never stopped learning in every role I have ever done. Congratulations on everything you have achieved so far!

  3. Well done Lakota, I actually remember when you first joined us and it was aparant then just how much potential you had. Massive well done and great to hear your story as I’m sure it will be extremely inspiring for others. Well done

  4. Well done again Lakota, so proud to have been one of your store managers! Keep on going! Excited to see what’s next!

  5. You say you didn’t know what you could do with just your GCSEs. Well I recently started looking around for other employment and found that, even though I did A-levels, most companies don’t care! A levels are a really pointless 2 years of your life if you don’t go to university afterwards. So anyway, I recently got myself an apprenticeship and all they wanted was my GCSE certificate. All this shows that it pays to plan ahead in your career (I thought I had, but then ended up doing 15 years retail before I realised it isn’t a great career!).

    • Wow! A little harsh when someone just wants to share their achievements. You may not now be happy in your chosen career after 15 years but I think you could have used a better outlet that on this ladies post!

  6. Bursting with pride, you are such an inspiration to all who know you. For me however, and at the risk of embarrassing you, having a Grand daughter who has achieved so much and possesses lots of the best qualities in a person such as passion, drive and determination for your work contribution, which is what your piece is all about and you have these in rafts ….but more importantly honesty. Integrity compassion and empathy make you very special….enjoy the rewards and the praise you have earned it!!!!

  7. Well done, not often you hear of young people with a great work ethic.

  8. Well done Lakota you’ve done amazing x

  9. Well done lakota

  10. Fantastic achievement Lakota and very well done!! The future awaits!!

  11. Well done Lakota – an inspiring story I’m glad to see published for others to see.

    • What a great story Lakota ! Well done …. you should be very proud of yourself and a great example of what can be achieved when you work hard 😘

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