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A defence of retail apprenticeships


Just how much the retail sector contributes to the UK’s economic success is often overlooked. It generates eight per cent of our GDP and over a third of all consumer spending goes through retailers. Moreover, the retail sector employs ten per cent of the entire UK workforce. That’s why I’m proud of the many exceptional apprenticeships that are being delivered through City & Guilds’ retail partners and helping to boost the UK economy.

Apprenticeships are a key route for people getting into the retail sector and we have confidence in the effectiveness and return on investment provided by quality retail apprenticeships to the UK market, the employer and the individual. This was demonstrated by our recent report on the ‘Economic Value of Apprenticeships’, published in February this year as part of our on-going Million Extra campaign - our commitment to work with employers, training providers and the Government to ensure one million apprenticeship places start by Summer 2013.

Our research reveals that UK businesses would benefit from a £4.37 billion boost if a million extra apprenticeship places are created by 2013. The retail sector would be one of the biggest beneficiaries, enjoying £64 million lift. So, not only will these apprenticeships inject a much needed financial boost into our struggling economy, but they will also help tackle the current unemployment levels and ensure that businesses have the skills they need for future growth.

Being part of the UK’s leading vocational education provider City & Guilds is incredibly humbling, particularly when you consider the impact of strong vocational training in industries like retail, which can help pull us out of this tough economic climate. Maintaining the highest standards of training and qualifications in the UK is something that City & Guilds is understandably passionate about.

So, having watched ‘The Great Apprentice Scandal’ on Monday 2 April, I was very disappointed that Panorama presented such a one-sided view of apprenticeships, helping to reinforce some of the most negative perceptions out there. The focus was on sub-standard training that delivers little or no value in the work place, rather than exploring the role apprenticeships can play in job creation, improving skill levels and supporting business growth.

Apprenticeships revealed as inadequate on Panorama included those in the retail sector. There is clearly evidence of poor practice among certain training providers, this does not fairly represent the wider landscape of apprenticeships in a sector where we’re seeing some of the biggest growth, both in uptake from businesses and individuals. There is a much greater number of committed organisations who work together to make apprenticeship programmes a success.

It’s critical for the success of UK plc that after decades of neglect we re-establish the apprenticeship model as an important route to a top career. As the awarding organisation that works with partners to deliver the largest numbers of apprenticeships in the UK, we are dedicated to high quality provision that improves lives and business performance and we are proud of the many exceptional apprenticeships that are being delivered through our customers.

Through City & Guilds for Business, the part of our organisation that works directly with employers, we get to see first-hand how valued apprenticeships are across all sectors. We only work with businesses whose values we feel align to our own and who want genuine investment in their people. Businesses who work with us to deliver apprenticeship programmes report benefits ranging from lower recruitment and retention costs through to greater productivity and increased revenues.

When it comes to learners, apprenticeships again prove their value. Apprentices have chosen a career path, and are gaining the skills to help them in an industry they feel passionate about. They get the opportunity to learn from the most experienced professionals in that field.

Not only are these learners getting an early step on the career ladder, but they get the opportunity to earn as they learn, avoiding the perils of ever-increasing student debt. Furthermore, once they have completed their training, they are equipped with the appropriate skills for their industry. This often makes apprentices a more attractive prospect than graduates who, as we’ve seen from recent coverage, are leaving university without the skills needed to get on in the workplace.

Apprenticeships clearly have a central role to play in plugging current skills gaps and helping to shape the workforce of tomorrow. Programmes like Panorama do the UK a disservice by tarnishing the apprenticeship brand. It’s time for people to stop perpetuating the myths surrounding apprenticeships and start recognising them for what they are - a vital tool in helping the UK’s economic recovery.

Retail apprenticeship case study: Tesco

Since inception in 2004, the Tesco apprenticeship programme has continued to develop, going from strength to strength and is delivering a number of positive benefits for both learners and the business. There is significant support for the programme internally, and a current commitment from within the business to continue to improve and expand the programmes currently on offer.

Tesco recognise that they already have their internal training processes in place, so on beginning the programme worked closely with City & Guilds to determine how it could work best for both their learners and their business – maximising the experience for the learners whilst minimising disruption for stores. The result is a fully embedded training model, where learners complete their retail skills and retail knowledge components supported by the Tesco structure of line managers and personnel managers.

This means that staff across all levels in store are engaged with the programme, and that the people who know the business the best, Tesco staff, are able to train and assess their own teams. As a result, the quality of the Tesco apprenticeship programme has been highlighted as out-standing, with it receiving an 85 per cent overall success rate (compared to a national average of 75.5 per cent) from the Skills Funding Agency last year. Moreover, apprenticeships are delivering real results for the business – with 30 per cent of last year’s successful apprentices going on to further career development programmes.

Judith Nelson, UK & Ireland Personnel Director at Tesco, commented: “Apprenticeships are an important part of our career development at Tesco. At Tesco everyone has the opportunity to get on – we work hard to provide a platform where everyone can grow their careers and be the best they can be.”

Kelly Ann Russell, former apprentice at the Sheerness Superstore, said: “The skills that I picked up from doing an apprenticeship with Tesco have been key to the development of my career, from starting as a general assistant in 2004, to my current role as a team leader.

“It gave me a chance to learn more about the business, and about the different departments within my store, which is something that makes my job much easier day-to-day. It made me feel very proud that I can tell my friends and family everything I had been learning at work.”

Chris Jones is CEO and Director General of vocational education organisation City & Guilds

Published on Monday 16 April by Editorial Assistant

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