By Chris Lovell, Store Manager, Warren Way – Woodingdean

For the last 15 years I’ve worked in retail at places like Sainsbury’s and Boots before joining Co-op 18 months ago as a Store Manager. Ten years ago, I successfully completed my degree in Sports Science but by this point, I’d already made the decision that I wanted to stay within the retail environment.

I’d done a bit of digging around to look for further study that was more closely related to my chosen career in retail but often stalled when I found that cost was a barrier. I’ve always been incredibly ambitious in goals that I set for myself, so I was thrilled when I learned that Co-op offer apprenticeships. It made perfect sense for me to join the programme to complete a BA Business Management Degree apprenticeship at Anglia Ruskin University.  

I’ve found that it allowed me to pursue my studies alongside my full-time role, whilst the time and cost elements were now much more accessible to me. The blend of learning and using the new skills I’ve learned have been invaluable. I’ve also benefitted from working with lots of colleagues within the business, expanding my network in the process. It’s hard work but has been useful for me to blend the academic side of the apprenticeship with the practical aspects. By studying alongside doing my job, I get to implement everything I’ve learnt first-hand and in real life situations. 

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) shines a light on the many positive aspects of an apprenticeship for businesses, communities and the individuals themselves. Co-op is a sponsor of the All-Party Group on Apprenticeships, which brings together MPs and Lords to consider and debate apprenticeship policy. As part of the activities during NAW, Emma Hardy MP and Jack Lorepsti MP chaired an ‘Ask the Apprentice’ session where a panel made up entirely of apprentices answered questions from Parliamentarians. The Minister for Apprenticeships, Alex Burghart MP and the Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships, Toby Perkins MP attended and listened to what the apprentices had to say and asked questions.

The theme of this year’s NAW is ‘Build the Future’ so I was thrilled to be asked to join this virtual event along with fellow Co-op apprentice, James Allen. I was able to speak about my personal experiences and why I decided to undertake a Co-op apprenticeship. Approx. 70 people attended virtually, giving us the chance to hear stories from other apprentices working for businesses like Amazon, KPMG and BAE. It was great to meet so many other apprentices from different backgrounds. I was able to ask how we can network as an apprentice group and the Minister recommended several social groups we can use. 

I’m just one of many apprentices making an impact across our businesses. Attending this event was a perfect platform for me to share my journey, along with emphasising the positive difference our apprenticeship programme can make to people’s lives.

The apprenticeship team have got lots of exciting plans for the programme in the future, ensuring it helps us continue to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. With programmes ranging from Level 2 to degree level and beyond there’s something for everyone. I’d encourage everyone to get involved if you can.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had so far and now plan to look forward to completing the rest of my apprenticeship.