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Starbucks apprentices full of beans

Jan Smallbone, Director of Talent, Starbucks EMEA talks about the success of the Starbucks Apprenticeship Programme, and the lessons learnt along the way.

My experience working in the recruitment and talent industry has taught me the great importance of spotting potential as early as possible and providing opportunities for truly iterative development, ensuring that employees can grow within the business with real intent. At Starbucks, I work with a brilliant (but lean) team of individuals who have brought the Starbucks Apprenticeship programme to life with immense dedication – as one member of my team pointed out: ‘I even know the colour of their eyes!’ Joy and difficulties have come in equal measure, but it has been above all immensely rewarding. It doesn’t take massive teams to make this happen, but it does require people who really care, and a genuine commitment throughout the business. Since the scheme began in February 2012, we have scaled at pace employing over 200 apprentices across the UK, and are on track to deliver our commitment of hiring 1000 apprentices by the end of 2014. However, the quality and integrity of the programme has remained at the heart of what we do.

When looking for great talent, the best recruits are looking for sustainable careers – good for them, good for our business growth, and good for the UK. During the recruitment process, we make sure apprentices are aware of what they can expect to achieve from the programme and what opportunities will be open to them. Once our apprentices have successfully completed the scheme, we offer full time employment and the chance to progress within the business. This is a great incentive for potential recruits as it provides a path to job security, and shows the company’s willingness to invest and develop talent for the long term. The phrase transferable skills might be overused, but it is true that one of the most attractive things we can provide is training that apprentices can apply in other job roles, like management and finance skills. We have also recently developed our training further by offering Level 3 and Level 5 Apprenticeship qualifications, with more to come, which gives our apprentices the right building blocks to begin a successful career in the retail industry. The most impactful action we can take from a CSR perspective is providing sustainable outcomes. While I applaud all those signing up to apprenticeship pledge, the real proof of the pudding lies not the in numbers of apprentices, but in progression and long term employment.

Parent and teachers’ powerful influence should not be underestimated, as they have a significant effect on a young person’s higher education and career choices. This is especially the case as the word ‘apprenticeship’ can still provoke negative connotations , harking back to long periods of low skilled work many years ago – but also, sadly, pitiful wages and lack of security still offered by many current schemes. At Starbucks we think it’s important to educate parents and teachers on the benefits of a vocational route to a career, as they are often focused on retaining young people in an academic environment. Vocational learning is just as effective in building careers, and can be by far the best way for many young people – particularly in the economic environment we continue to face with increasing university fees and significant youth unemployment. We work very closely with schools and colleges to demonstrate that an apprenticeship is a very valuable route into sustainable and exciting employment…and to disprove those myths!

When apprentices are looking to join a company’s scheme, they often have little or no experience in the workplace. In order to make our potential recruits feel comfortable, we invite them to an open day, involving a range of activities, including group coffee tasting sessions, interviews and team-work exercises. The informal format of the day allows candidates to relax and show their true personalities – it is this raw talent and enthusiasm that we are looking for. Once apprentices are hired, it’s important that their work is communicated to the wider business. We champion our successful apprentices by showcasing great work and great people across the business and to our customers. We do this by sharing case studies on our website, through our social media platforms, and through internal recognition. Some of our apprentices have felt confident enough to take part in out Barista Championships only a few months into their careers, another has been nominated as Partner (employee) of the Quarter, and another was voted Apprentice of the Year by our assessor partner.

This year we made a decision to offer a Level-5 business and management Apprenticeship in 2014 which is equivalent to a higher education national diploma. The decision to increase the programme has been driven by its success in recruiting and retaining fantastic talent. We hope that these additions will further increase the opportunities for a genuine career path and progress for young people joining the company. I genuinely believe that apprenticeships should be integral to both commercial and people strategy. Starbucks Apprentices are an important pillar in securing the long term success of our business. And, by the way, are powerful ambassadors for UK plc in the hospitality and tourism sector.

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