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As a business executive, it’s tempting to sit back and take the view that it’s the job of the government to educate the future workforce and the job of business to create employment.
But that’s starting to look very ‘old school’.
Every business is part of society and should have a social and not just commercial purpose to their existence. The Co-op has always thought like this. But in 2018 it’s something every business should be doing.
When it comes to education, the idea that it’s the sole responsibility of the government doesn’t make much sense. You only have to consider how the world of work has been changing in the last 25 years.
If you’re at school or university today, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll work for the same employer for 40 years and then retire. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be doing the same job using exactly the same skills at age 50 as you did at aged 18 or 21. The one thing we know already is that our working lives will be varied and will involve regular changes of employer and the regular need for learning new skills or at least adapting existing skills.
We also know that the skills a successful business needs to remain relevant and competitive are changing too. And values and ethos will differ between businesses. At the Co-op we want colleagues who can think competitively but behave collaboratively. Most of all we want colleagues who understand that as a Co-op we exist to create value for our 4.6 million member-owners and we need to put them at the forefront of all our thinking.
To create the Co-op we want it makes sense to encourage and nurture co-operative skills and ways of thinking. We do this through our work with our Co-op Academy schools and through our Apprenticeship programme.
10,000 school children
A week ago in Salford we started sponsoring our 12th Co-op Academy School. Our other schools are in Leeds, North Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and West Yorkshire. We look to help schools that have the greatest educational challenges in communities that need additional help to support their young people. Through our Co-op Academies we’re touching the lives of over 10,000 children. We encourage our senior managers to become school governors, we create work experience opportunities and we’re building a route into the Co-op through our apprenticeship programme.
Most importantly, we’re helping the schools to build a culture of co-operative values. In the classroom you see that coming through in how lessons are taught, how pupils relate to each other and how a sense of responsibility and independence is nurtured. When these students join us as colleagues, as they are beginning to do, they arrive with the values we believe in and enhance our workplace from day one.
Since we relaunched our apprenticeship programme in 2011 we’ve had more than 4,000 Co-op colleagues either start their working life with us or begin a new chapter in their careers. This year we hope to take on 1,000 new apprentices across our Co-op. By building up our Apprenticeship programme we’re not only teaching the skills we need as a business, we’re also ccreating a pipeline of co-op minded talent that will operate at every level of the business from our store managers, funeral directors, and insurance advisors, to our support functions, and up to Executive level.
We’re now offering our first Co-op degrees enabling apprentices to achieve their qualification debt-free and be earning a salary at the same time. We have 33 apprentices taking our Chartered Manager Degree which we’re running in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University.
And because we value our apprentices and see them as an important investment for the future, we pay them the same rate as other colleagues and give them a permanent contract.
We need to work closely with the Government to influence how the new apprenticeship business levy is operating. It’s great to have a financial structure to encourage big business to grow apprenticeships, but right now the system is too inflexible and operates differently in England than it does in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s no help to a UK wide business like the Co-op.
The next generation
So we’re getting into the classroom both at school and at work because we believe any business of our size and scale and national standing has a responsibility to contribute to the education of the next generation of employees. It’s not in the interest of any business to exist in a society that’s willing to let a whole generation be left behind, or at the very least be left ill-equipped to enter adult life.
I’d go as far as saying that if you want to create a competitive advantage, if you want to offer your customers the best colleagues, and if you want those colleagues to be the greatest champions of your brand – then it’s time for your business to get into the classroom.
Co-op Group Deputy CEO