From education to employment

The importance of opening up apprenticeship opportunities to all ages, not just school leavers

Sharon Blyfield

The start of February can only mean one thing: National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2023) is upon us again. Each year, I like to reflect on how much progress we’ve made over the past twelve months, not just at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), but also as an industry.

There has been a continued focus on opening up opportunities for young people through apprenticeships and, while I commend the commitment to alternative pathways, I think we can all do more to encourage people of all ages and skill levels to undertake apprenticeships, not just school leavers.

Chancellor suggested that a shorter type of apprenticeship could encourage over-50s to retrain or return to work

Just this month, the Chancellor suggested that a shorter type of apprenticeship could be explored to help encourage over-50s to retrain or return to work. Those that have undertaken an apprenticeship will understand the value it has in developing important skills that can help you climb the corporate career ladder, no matter which rung you start on, and we shouldn’t limit this opportunity to just young talent.

With apprenticeships now available in many businesses up to Level 7, the equivalent of a master’s degree, it’s important that we ensure apprenticeships are targeted at all ages and skill levels, not just the traditional focus of 16-24 year olds.

How we’re opening up apprenticeship opportunities at CCEP

During my time as CCEP’s early careers lead, I have grown the business’ apprenticeship schemes from four apprentices based at two sites in 2014 to more than 289 apprentices across all five manufacturing sites and Head Office. I’ve worked with apprentices at all stages, from Level 2 all the way up to degree level, across the Engineering, Field Sales, Logistics and Business Administration programmes, while also evolving the programme to include different disciplines, such as Legal, HR and Merchandising apprenticeships – and we plan to extend this further to other areas like Finance in the future.

While we do have a strong Early Careers programme at CCEP, which accommodates school and college leavers, from my own experiences of not having a university degree, I’m determined to change people’s mindsets when it comes to learning and embarking on apprenticeships throughout their careers. I firmly believe that anyone should be able to return to learning at any age. Learning should be a life-long process and we want to encourage people of all ages to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.

This is why we’ve introduced initiatives within the business like our Career Builder programme, which offers apprenticeships to existing employees all the way up to degree level. So far, we’ve supported 123 colleagues onto this scheme, of all ages. The dedication and level of commitment to learning demonstrated by this group is evident in their results, with 75% of those on the Career Builder programme achieving a merit or distinction, while 80% have gone on to secure a promotion.

This week we’re celebrating a group of 21 colleagues who have recently completed their respective apprenticeships on the Career Builder programme at our office in Uxbridge. It’s important to us to bring these people together and recognise the hard work and effort they have put into achieving this qualification, alongside their full-time role, and show how much we value their commitment to building their skillsets as a business.

For me our Career Builder programme is a win-win. Providing our employees with the opportunity to acquire the qualifications and skills they need and want, helps us be a better business because engaged and stimulated employees bring their own thoughts and learnings into our everyday processes, making CCEP a better place to work and a better partner for our customers.

Encouraging further uptake

We want to keep encouraging employees to take on qualifications throughout their career, combining apprenticeships with other career development programmes where it’s appropriate to ensure colleagues can learn all the skills they need.

A great example of this is our current graduate cohort, who just last week began an apprenticeship course in Coaching. Some of the key skills they will learn from this are communication, stakeholder management and trust building and maintenance. This will not only enhance their professional performance, but also enable them to understand how to approach working with teams and individuals as they progress in the business.

Coaching is an important skill for our graduates to have, as it is a way of leading in a non-directive manner, helping people to learn through listening and being reflective, rather than giving direct instruction.

Looking ahead

This year we will continue to do everything we can to encourage people of all ages to consider taking on an apprenticeship, in our own business and across the industry. There is so much untapped talent out there and it’s up to businesses like ours to find ways to reach this talent and encourage them into our workforce, as well as give those currently working in our business opportunities to continue learning. For me, learning is fluid, and it’s why we offer many different opportunities and pathways for people in different life stages and circumstances.

I hope that as an industry we can continue to challenge our thinking and internal initiatives. This way we can embed positive change and encourage a new cohort of apprentices that shows a diverse age range

By Sharon Blyfield OBE, head of early careers at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

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