By Keela Walsh, Co-op Academies Adviser 

Last academic year, students spent much of their time studying at home, without the usual work experience opportunities, mentorships and skills workshops. We really care about making sure young people have fair access to education and employment and know there’s a huge job to be done in terms of educational recovery as we come out of the pandemic. We want to make sure that we’re doing all we can, particularly for those in our extended Co-op family community. 

That’s why, earlier this year in June, we partnered with 11 of our suppliers across media, technology and FMCG to launch a ‘virtual work experience’ programme for over 1,500 students at our academies.  

During the five-week programme, pupils were invited to a range of online presentations from our colleague networks, given insights on how to ‘get into’ areas including information technology, marketing and retail and offered employability skills sessions, such as CV writing and applying for apprenticeships.  

The scheme was developed to give young people support in levelling up their prospects following the pandemic. We also hoped to tackle the long-standing issue of the academies’ young people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, being less likely to secure valuable work experiences and mentorships due to a lack of family contacts or simply being too far out of the city.  

18 different teams at the Co-op hosted virtual sessions for the students including Legal, Funeralcare, Food Stores, Procurement, Marketing, Supply Chain and Digital Technology. We also hosted sessions led by speakers from P&G, Microsoft, Kellogg’s and others.  

The scheme was great success and we got positive feedback from the students. Finlay Nairn White, Co-op Academy student, told me what he thought about the programme:  

I joined several different sessions and they were all really interesting as the people spoke not only about the roles they were doing now but also about how they got into them. I liked that they talked about what they did at college and in school. The Kellogg’s session was my favourite as it was the most interactive.  

Many of the speakers talked about working part time to start with before they went into full time employment, so that inspired me to get a part time job at McDonalds that I can carry on doing when I start college in September. Hearing about how others had started their careers has given me the confidence to do this and some ideas for my future”.

It’s really rewarding to know that our virtual work experience programme gave these students a valuable insight into the world of work and helped them make important decisions about life beyond school. It was brilliant to see other major companies partnering with us on this, demonstrating just how impactful collaboration and co-operation can be. And I want to say a big thank you to all the Co-op colleagues who took the time to run live webinars for students. 

We plan to grow the virtual work experience and offer it to more schools and community organisations across the UK, to support even more young people in the future.  

If you want to find out more please contact me: