By Charlie Bird, Store Manager, Fishermead

Today is International Youth Day, an annual, global event. At Co-op, we’re looking at how young colleagues can thrive at work and exploring how older colleagues can be better allies.

My Co-op journey began in 2019, when I was 20. With four years previous retail experience, I joined as a Store Manager in a small store. After six months, I took on the additional responsibility of simultaneously running a second store for a short while. I then moved again to focus on my current store full time.

When starting, it was essential to build a strong network. My colleagues were all very supportive, as was my line manager. We were both new, as he’d joined from a different internal department. Starting at the same time and sharing ambitions to improve things helped create a strong working relationship.

My first store was struggling with absenteeism and high turnover. Things were so challenging that support was often needed from neighbouring stores. My task was to reverse this trend. It was a difficult situation, but by drawing on my experiences, it was nothing new for me to face. Over time I recruited new team members and within 6 months things had turned around. When I last checked, the store hasn’t needed extra support in months.

I relish the chance for extra opportunities alongside my role. Continuing to stretch myself is important to my development.

I led the Your Store Your Say (YSYS) activity for the 23 stores in our area. It meant making sure they all asked for customer feedback and put action plans in place. It allowed me to widen my network by being in regular contact with the other store managers. I was also working with CTMs, Team Leaders and Team Managers, supporting them to lead it in their own stores. Thanks to the hard work, our area response levels topped the division which made me proud.

I also led the rollout of online services like Deliveroo and Co-op Online across the area. This time I broadened my network working with the internal Co-op Online team and the external Starship team. Introducing Starship robots at the height of the pandemic was tough. We launched them in six stores and demand for their service was huge. Plenty of work was needed to support the store teams and make sure it was a success.

Currently I’m glad to have conquered challenges in two stores and I’m happy working in my third. I’m very ambitious and although I’ve no immediate plans to move on, I can see further opportunities long term.

Co-op commits to an inclusive culture, where everyone is aware and curious of others’ differences. Our colleague networks play a huge role. They encourage discussion and provide a safe space for like-minded colleagues. They also help to highlight and overcome challenges specific colleague populations may face.

Strive is our network designed to help young colleagues (aged 16 – 30) shine in their careers. That can be through supporting progression, networking and development opportunities. To mark International Youth Day, there’s lots going on and everyone can get involved. Visit the Strive Yammer page to find the schedule and registration information.

If I could offer any advice, it’d be to never let your age stop you. It can be easy to think ‘I’m too young’ to take on a role or challenge, but I don’t see ability and age as connected. You’ll never feel 100% ready for that next role, you won’t wake up one day feeling different. If you wait until everything feels perfect, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Someone once told me:

You have to be honest enough to ask for what you want, courageous enough to pursue it and dedicated enough to deserve it.

It’s a quote I’ve always lived by, in fact I used it in my very first interview and was successful in getting the role. When opportunities present themselves, grab them with both hands. It’s the best way to learn and progress.