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Apprenticeships: Futureproofing the workforce and boosting careers in retail

While many retailers have been impacted by the pandemic, there has been nothing like the wholesale disruption and loss of business experienced in sectors such as hospitality or travel. In fact in many cases, retail sales have actually risen over the past year, particularly when it comes to online shopping and delivery. But this change in emphasis also means a change in the skills required by the sector, so apprenticeships will continue to play a vital role in the development of retail in the post-pandemic world.

This year’s 14th National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place from 8 to 14 February, will be unlike any that has gone before it, with most of its activities taking place virtually and online. That digital emphasis is also a timely reminder of the profound changes the pandemic has brought about as employers and providers strive to face up to the challenges of these unprecedented times.

“The pandemic has increased sales in our stores leading to more opportunities for us to increase our number of apprentices by over 250 at level 2,” said Jim Murphy, Iceland’s Training & Development Manager. “We will continue during and beyond the pandemic to continue with our talent growth plans going forward.”

With almost 28,000 apprentices across the sector, National Apprenticeship Week is an opportunity for employers and training providers to share how they train and retain apprentices and how they’re achieving a return on their apprenticeship investments. And it’s also a springboard to help us look ahead at how apprenticeships can futureproof the workforce and boost careers as well as helping individuals to thrive by gaining valuable workplace skills and knowledge.

“In our recent employee engagement survey, apprentices were 17 percentage points higher when compared to non-apprentices when asked if they plan to stay with the Co-op for three or more years,” said Louise Timperley, the Co-op’s Apprenticeship Manager.

“In our retail business, having started with a limited apprenticeship offer, the pilot was so successful that we introduced different levels to provide clear career pathways. We now have some great examples of colleagues who have been promoted from customer team members to store managers and even area managers.”

Jim Murphy, Iceland’s Training & Development Manager adds, “We have a higher level of measured capability from colleagues who have completed an apprenticeship and also a much higher retention rate of colleagues who are either completing or have completed an apprenticeship. The skills, knowledge and behaviours are all designed to apply to the day job which makes every module worthwhile.”

Through the Retail Skills & Quality Board, employers have worked hard over recent years to develop the sector’s apprenticeship standards and ensure they are fit for purpose. This employer-led approach has given the sector confidence in the content and delivery of apprenticeships and provided a valuable talent pipeline. Moving forward, it will also prove vital in ensuring that employers can define effective post-pandemic progression routes and align workplace skills and vocational education activities.

People 1st International has also been helping to address the future talent pipeline and improve the quality of technical education by leading an industry response back to the Department for Education on the current consultations into post-16 level 2 & 3 qualifications. This represents a critical opportunity to correct the pathways into retail and is needed now more than ever.

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