Case Study: The Co-op

In this case study, we look at the work we have done with The Co-op, to develop an Apprenticeship scheme that revolves around its commitment to championing staff at all levels.

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The Co-op

Working with employers to champion every apprentice

The Co-op is one of the world’s largest member-owned co-operatives. It is the UK’s fifth largest food retailer, with 2800 stores. It is also the UK’s number one funeral services provider, a major general insurer and a legal services business. In addition, it owns a minority shareholding in The Co-op Bank and operates a joint venture in the travel industry with Thomas Cook.

The Co-op employs nearly 70,000 people across its business portfolio. Central to its values is a desire to generate benefits for members, customers, staff and the wider community. One of its fundamental principles relates to the education and training of staff, so it’s no surprise that the Co-op has an effective and supportive apprenticeship programme.

Creating rewarding apprenticeships

The Co-op believes that investing in apprenticeships is good for business, and since 2011 they have taken on over 3000 apprentices. They have all been paid the standard rate for the role they are training for (rather than the national minimum apprenticeship wage), and been offered the same employee benefits as those received by full-time employees.

The Co-op’s apprenticeship manager, Lloyd Thomas, is also chair of the retail Trailblazer group. This group works with awarding organisations, including Pearson, to address the challenge of providing relevant apprenticeship courses to the retail industry, in line with new industry-led regulatory standards.

"Apprentices in many fields are now progressing quickly and earning good salaries." Lloyd Thomas, Apprenticeship Manager at The Co-op

Developing the potential in every apprentice

The Co-op has worked with Pearson since 2011 to provide a first-class apprenticeship programme that develops the skills apprentices need to meet the Co-op’s business requirements.

With the support of the retail sector skills council (People 1st), learndirect and EDI (which is now a fully integrated part of Pearson), the Co-op devised Level 2 qualifications for funeral arrangers and funeral service operatives, and a Level 3 qualification for funeral directors.

The Co-op also introduced a Level 2 food retail programme, which enables apprentices to progress to Levels 3 and 4. This programme provides apprentices with the opportunity to continually build on their existing skills, creating a pathway to managerial roles.

Changing the apprenticeship landscape

The Co-op’s Funeralcare programme has been so successful that every new Funeralcare employee is now placed into one of its apprenticeship levels. The Co-op signed up its 1500th Funeralcare apprentice in early 2016, and its 500th successful apprenticeship completion is also on the horizon.

The Co-op is currently working with Pearson to provide a Level 2 business admin qualification for its apprentices. Since April 2016, the Co-op has been integrating new apprenticeship courses into its offering that have been developed under the new Trailblazer standards.

By implementing the new standards as part of its ongoing commitment to providing a first-class apprenticeship programme, the Co-op remains ahead of the curve. Placing employee development at the forefront of their business strategy means that the Co-op can rest assured that they have a well-trained workforce – one that has been assessed carefully using end-point assessment, and supported with firm quality assurance guidelines in mind.

Investing in nationwide apprenticeship development

In addition to his role with the Co-op, Lloyd is one of a group of employer representatives who offer their valuable perspectives on apprenticeships as part of Pearson’s advisory board, which looks closely at the wider agenda around supporting and developing apprenticeships and apprentices.

“We are beginning to change the perception of apprenticeships,” says Lloyd. “There are great options for anyone who comes out of school or university – apprentices in many fields are now progressing quickly and earning good salaries. Most of the people I’m speaking to now are thinking along similar lines.”

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