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Retail apprenticeships: Boosting retention, productivity, and social mobility

Retailers across the UK are facing significant operational challenges as attempts to fill positions and retain talent has become more expensive and competitive. As businesses have been forced to reshape operations, many have also been looking at how they can proactively upskill their workforce and build the future talent pipeline.

Sustainable skills solutions

Apprenticeships offer retailers a fantastic route to develop the skills needed to positively interact with customers, help match products and services to customer needs and increase spend.

“Apprenticeships are a critical route for people to get to a long-term career – that’s why they’re so important. Providing this route is a productive and effective way to grow talent within our Co-op and develop a motivated, skilled, and qualified workforce that allows us to prosper. As our biggest business, retail is where most customers engage with Co-op. Our retail apprenticeships help apprentices learn everything they need to know to thrive in this fast-paced environment.” - Lloyd Thomas, Apprenticeships and Funded Skills Lead, Co-op

Since 2015, over 32,000 individuals have engaged in a retail apprenticeship – that’s before accounting for those working in head office or supporting roles in digital or customer service apprenticeships, to name a few.

Apprenticeships are a brilliant option for people of all ages to launch their career in an ever-changing retail world, giving them high quality training whilst also getting paid. A retail apprenticeship also offers a great springboard to take on more responsibility in their current role, or towards future careers within their store or in the business as a whole, in departments as such as head office.

Tangible business benefits

However, it’s not only the apprentice that reaps the rewards. Apprenticeships provide significant business benefits, giving them the opportunity to prosper, including:

  • Increased staff loyalty and retention: Individuals who complete their apprenticeships are often highly motivated and supportive of their employer’s main objectives, with 80% seeing a significant increase in employee retention.
  • Reduced recruitment costs: Upskilling existing staff through apprenticeships helps employers ensure they have a resilient team, enabling them to develop existing talent.
  • Opportunities for skills development: Apprenticeship training develops skills aligned to the employer’s future needs. This helps to fill any skills gaps and allows businesses to develop a pipeline of future managers and leaders from within.

“We have used the level 2 standard to bring young people into DFS. This offers an opportunity for them to learn skills that will provide a valuable foundation for a successful career in areas such as retail and supports our diversity and inclusion strategy as a business. We have also now introduced the level 4 retail manager apprenticeship as a way for existing colleagues to take control of their own development.” - Caroline Gascoigne, National Qualifications Manager, DFS

Promoting an agile workforce and encouraging colleagues to be curious about other areas or their store and the business is becoming ever more important for retail. Gaining a broader understanding of the business which increases colleague confidence can produce a motivated and up-skilled workforce. Apprenticeships present this opportunity to store colleagues, increasing their loyalty to the business. Apprentices also benefit from gaining digital skills as part of the apprenticeship, which are transferrable skills that allow them to work across multiple areas of the store and be more confident with technology that is used across different departments in store.

A ladder for social mobility

Apprenticeships are often considered a ladder of social mobility, helping to deliver a resilient workforce that can deliver results, drive innovation and offers access to all, supporting the economy in its recovery from Covid-19.

“Apprenticeships are part of our broader commitment at the Co-op to improve social mobility. By attracting new talent and developing existing colleagues and making the sector more appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds, we are able to bring in new ways of thinking that help us to achieve a better way of doing business, whilst also progressing colleagues’ careers.” - Lloyd Thomas, Apprenticeships and Funded Skills Lead, Co-op

As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week 2022, we encourage employers across the sector to look at how they can create access to quality apprenticeships, develop a diverse and productive workforce and rebuild stronger from the pandemic.

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