Today marks the end of this year‘s National Apprenticeship Week, which celebrates not only those taking steps towards their future careers, but the businesses and retailers which offer them the opportunity to do so.
In 2015 over half a million apprenticeships were started in England, up nearly 10,000 on the year before. Of these, retail represented the third largest sector, accounting for a significant portion of the opportunities available.
With the apprenticeship levy set to rise in the coming months, and university fees becoming increasingly burdensome on students, apprenticeships are fast becoming a favoured alternative career path in the UK.
Debbie Gardiner, chief executive of Qube Learning, a company which helps retailers like Halford‘s and Peacocks with their apprenticeship programmes, believes apprenticeships are important for young people.
“To start with, it’s an opportunity to bring young people into retail and have a structured programme that can be adapted for each of the employers,” she told the Retail Gazette.
“It‘s a nationally-recognised qualification and something that gives them a starting point to build their careers from.
“It‘s actually important for the older employees aswell, not just for the young ones.
“In retail particularly there are a lot of middle aged women, some of whom have never had any qualifications before, so it‘s a good opportunity to develop those people aswell and build their careers maybe beyond what they had as aspirations.”
Not only are they vital in providing inroads into employment for those who may not have never had the opportunity, but they provide a second chance for many to gain an education.
Starbucks director of partner recources Lisa Robbins told the Retail Gazette that 80 per cent of the 1500 apprentices they have taken on still remain in the business.
“In 2015 we announced that Starbucks will be offering a higher and degree level apprenticeships as well as professional qualifications,” she said.
“Our aim is to ensure our partners can study at the highest level, earning while they learn in disciplines such as management, digital and IT as well as in retail operations.
“At the same time, we introduced the opportunity to improve literacy, numeracy and language skills to support progression and employability for our partners.”
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It‘s not just the apprentices who benefit from these types of schemes. Retail is an industry with huge staff turnover, and ensuring their staff are capable and enthusiastic about their work is vital for success.
Superdrug is no stranger to apprenticeship schemes, and its customer and peope director Jo Mackie stated that they play a vital role in the company’s strategy.
“Apprenticeships have had a huge impact on retail,” Mackie said.
“They offer a great opportunity for young people to cut their teeth in a fast-paced commercial environment and the learning opportunities are plentiful in everything from creativity to leadership – the opportunities are wide and varied and go far beyond working on a till.”
Another important aspect which benefits both apprentices and retailers is allowing those involved to be able to explore the business and find a position in which they can thrive.
Gardiner explained that retailers should keep and “open mind” when choosing who to train.
“Offering them opportunities to work in different parts of the business, not just in the stores, not just in one department,” she said.
“Having that variety to discover what is their niche and the best place for them where they can add the most value.”
The inherent benefits for both retailers and prospective employees are far reaching, but are our retailers doing enough to help people into work?
Gardiner said traineeships could be the be the answer to helping even more people into fulfilling careers.
“With young people, the other programme that we run and the government fund is a traineeship programme,” she said.
“That‘s for 16 to 24-year-olds who are not quite work ready. There‘s something holding them back from being ready to start working.
“And offering those placement opportunities, which is almost work experience, where the provider also takes them through some English and Maths in some work-related aspects.
“They fulfil that gap so that they are ready to work, it almost becomes a pre-apprenticeship programme.
Mackie added: “Work experience is a vital part of the journey that retailers can offer to young people to help them into a successful career and progress in their chosen path.
“By offering apprenticeships retailers are giving individuals a second chance at education and a long-term career path – it‘s a true win-win situation and we see the results of that every day.”