From education to employment

Talent is everywhere but opportunity isn’t

Sharon Blyfield, Early Careers and Apprenticeship Lead GB, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP)
We’ve just welcomed our latest intake of apprentices and graduates at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), and I’m thrilled that this year we were able to do so in-person. For me, each time we take on a new cohort, I feel immense pride in the work we have done to bring young people of all backgrounds into our business and I’m excited for our new apprentices and the journey they have ahead of them.
The start of the new academic year provides us with a good opportunity to reflect on the past 18 months and to sharpen our focus on opportunities we provide for young people, something that’s always been important to me but is especially poignant in a post-lockdown world. While many large employers like CCEP have made huge strides to make the workplace more inclusive, there is still lots to be done to make opportunities more available to young people from all parts of our society.
What’s certain though, is that there is no lack of talent amongst our young people. But finding an opportunity to develop that talent is difficult, and finding one that suits their individual skillsets and interests is even harder. Young people are often overlooked by employers, and that’s particularly been the case over the past year when companies have needed to evaluate their outgoings and, in some cases, reduce their workforce. This means the window of opportunity for young people has narrowed further still.
So how do we, as big companies, give these young people the opportunities they deserve and ensure it makes good business sense too?

Exposure to more opportunities

Although some opportunities already exist for young people, awareness of them is low, so as employers, we need to ensure that we promote the different pathways into employment as much as possible.  We need to ensure that young jobseekers can not only find the opportunities, but also see that it’s a setting that’s accessible to them and in which they can thrive.
At CCEP, we recognise that there is a perception that the corporate world is a difficult one to enter. So to combat this, I launched a new initiative for young black students to provide them with some insight into what’s it’s like to work for an organisation like CCEP. We invited young people from a West London school to visit our Edmonton site to give them a better understanding of all the roles available, and more importantly so they could see people like them represented across the business.
Like CCEP, all big employers need to do more to increase awareness and improve access to the opportunities they can offer young people, whether that’s through graduate programmes, apprenticeships or other pathways into work and higher education.
At CCEP, I’m lucky to work for an organisation that’s dedicated to finding and nurturing the next wave of talent and we’ve been working to increase the number of graduate and apprenticeship places we offer across the business, from engineering to sales. I have been in the business for 27 years, which has given me the chance to implement real change for early careers.
A key priority for me it has been to increase the proportion of women and people from underrepresented backgrounds coming onto our apprenticeship programmes in the supply chain, particularly increasing the number of women in engineering. Since 2014, we have increased the gender balance from 25% female to 40% and 11% of our apprentices are from a Black or Asian heritage – a huge step forwards. But this representation needs to be seen across all large employers, so young people can see a reflection of themselves across all businesses.
We’ve just welcomed a total of 28 apprentices and graduates into the business, and it’s been encouraging to see the diverse range of applicants this year, made up of a cohort that is 40% female and 60% male, and 45% from a Black or Asian heritage. The level of progress we’ve made is a reflection of the hard work and commitment of many teams across the business, and also of our leadership team’s unerring support for our efforts.

Opening up non-traditional pathways and embracing diversity

We endeavour to challenge the underrepresentation seen in the corporate world, but it’s not just the business that supports this, our apprentices also do what they can to champion diversity.
We’ve realised that one of the key ways of ensuring our programmes are accessible to young people is to make sure our current apprentices are the voices of the programmes. That’s why at CCEP we encourage our apprentices to get involved in external activities that allow them share their story. They have represented the business at the House of Commons during National Apprenticeship Week and at the ESFA Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network. They also speak regularly at careers fairs up and down the country. Using our apprentices is the most effective way to connect with those potential recruits who may not have even considered the apprenticeship pathway and offer a wealth of talent and new ideas.  And personally, I’m incredibly proud that we have such inspiring ambassadors for our business.
For example, one of our business administration apprentices, Samah Rafiq was asked to support at CCEP’s assessment centre days for the next cohort. She encouraged the hiring panel to focus on skills and displayed behaviours rather than CVs, helping level the playing field for applicants from non-traditional backgrounds. As a young woman from an ethnic minority background, and the first in her family to undertake an apprenticeship, Samah has been a passionate advocate of inclusion and diversity. It’s fantastic for us to be able to champion our apprentices and in turn, see them champion apprenticeships and non-traditional pathways externally. Not only this, it’s also important for potential applicants to be able to see and hear from someone who can offer them valuable personal insight into what an apprenticeship is like at CCEP.
We’re committed to opening up non-traditional pathways for a range of interests and skills sets and that’s why we offer a breadth of programmes – from engineering to other routes in sales, HR, legal up to Level 4 (degree equivalent) apprenticeships.

Building future leaders

Once we have new talent in the business, it’s also important to us to ensure we’re equipping our recruits with the skills they need, not just for the current workplace, but beyond this too – we want all of our apprentices and graduates to have the brightest future possible.
We firmly believe that learning doesn’t and shouldn’t stop at any point in your career and that’s why we created our Career Builder programme in 2017, which offers apprenticeships to employees already working at the organisation, in partnership with learning institutions like Manchester Metropolitan University.
The programme is open to all employees at CCEP – the only pre-requisite is a passion to learn, develop and succeed. And to make sure the programme is accessible and achievable, the apprenticeships compliment our employees’ day-to-day roles, providing an even closer look at the inside mechanisms of the business. So far, we’ve supported around 70 colleagues onto the Career Builder initiative, and we intend to continue expanding the programme in 2022.
If the last 18 months has taught us anything at CCEP, it’s that investing in the talent pipeline is paramount for the future of our business. We’ve learnt that we can adapt our programmes so they are still effective virtually to enable us to continue supporting the next generation of talent. But we are still taking steps to widen our apprenticeship programmes so we can invest in more employees each year.
What we need to encourage now is an industry-wide approach to apprenticeships and other non-traditional pathways so that we can come together to nurture the talent that all businesses would benefit from, as well as increasing diversity to make workplaces somewhere for everyone to feel represented. One of the most effective ways of capturing new talent at CCEP for our early careers has been through leveraging the contacts that our current apprentices can offer, encouraging them to speak on panels and at their school – somewhere they feel comfortable and will inspire those looking for an alternative to university.
There are hordes of promising young people out there and it’s our responsibility to ensure they are exposed to all the opportunities available and to highlight the range of pathways on offer. If we come together to motivate the next wave of talent to choose a non-traditional pathway, we can make a real change to the early careers landscape.
Sharon Blyfield, Head of Early Careers at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

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