Earlier this month, National Apprenticeship Week celebrated not only those taking steps towards their future careers but the businesses – especially retailers – which offer them the opportunity to do so. In 2015 over half a million apprenticeships were started in England, up by nearly 10,000 on the year before. Of these, retail represented the third largest sector, a significant proportion given the vast number of 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 favored alternative career path in the UK. Not only are they vital in providing inroads into employment for those who may not have never had the opportunity, but they also provide a second chance for many to gain an education.
Debbie Gardiner, chief executive of Qube Learning – a firm which helps retailers with their apprenticeship programs – believes apprenticeships are important for both young and old.
“To start with, it’s an opportunity to bring young people into retail and have a structured program that can be adapted for each of the employers,” she said. “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 as well, 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 as well and build their careers maybe beyond what they had as aspirations.”
Jennifer Ciminiello, the Recruitment Resourcer at Quest Search & Selection, is one person who has taken on an apprenticeship to kick-start her career.
“Starting as an apprentice with Quest has opened so many doors for me,” she said.
“So far it has been an amazing experience especially as I have learned so much about retail but also about recruitment.
“In fact, I didn’t know about half the roles I do now. It’s a real eye-opener on how many opportunities there are out there in the retail industry.”
Ciminiello said she decided to do an apprenticeship with a retail focus as she had already been in the industry for a couple of years.
“Once I finished my A-Levels I decided that I wanted more of a commercial and diversified role and going into retail recruitment would be a good the perfect next step for me in terms of career development,” she said.
It’s not just the apprentices who benefit from these types of schemes. Retail is an industry with huge staff turnover, and ensuring they are capable and enthusiastic about their work is vital for success.
Superdrug is no stranger to apprenticeship schemes, and its customer and people director Jo Mackie said they played a vital role in the company’s strategy.
“[Apprenticeships] 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 ” she said.
Another beneficial aspect for both apprentices and retailers is allowing the opportunity explore the place of work and find a position in which they can thrive. However, Gardiner said retailers should keep and “open mind” when choosing who to train.
“Offer 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.”
While the inherent benefits for both retailers and prospective employees are quite clear, are retailers doing enough to help people to work? Gardiner said traineeships could be the answer to helping, even more, people into fulfilling careers.
“With young people, the other program that we run and the government fund is a traineeship program,” she said.
“That’s for 16 to 24-year-olds who are not quite working 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 fulfill that gap so that they are ready to work, it almost becomes a pre-apprenticeship program.” Mackie added: “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.” Meanwhile, Ciminiello believes anyone who is still thinking about doing an apprenticeship in retail should “just go for it”.
“There are so many opportunities out there in the retail world that people don’t even know about,” she said. “Also, there are many great retail companies out there that are known for delivering successful apprenticeship schemes which are offering great positions. “It can open so many doors and it’s an effective way of getting real experience.”
This article is an amended version of one that first appeared by Ben Stevens on Quest Search & Selection’s sister website, Retail Gazette.