The Co-operative Group has set up an Apprenticeship Academy to provide 2,000 young people with transferrable skills and qualifications at a cost of £9 million over the next two years.
The move is part of a wider £21 million ‘Inspiring Young People’ campaign, which is aimed at changing the negative perceptions of youth and supporting them in achieving their life goals and ambitions.
Group chief executive Peter Marks, who began his career at the Co-op stacking shelves at his local store in Bradford at 17, said: “Shackled with the legacy of national debt, an increasingly inaccessible property ladder and an uncertain future shaped by climate change, it’s a challenging time to be a young person in Britain. Sadly, as society, we harbour a widespread negative attitude towards young people, which doesn’t encourage or inspire them.”
Although all too often they were portrayed as “poorly educated, work-shy and uncaring”, as an organisation that employed more than 120,000 staff, a quarter of whom were under the age of 25, the Co-op believed the opposite to be true, he added.
Instead young people should be seen “the solution rather than the problem”, Marks said.
The Co-op operates chains of supermarket, travel and retail pharmacy stores as well as providing funeral services and financial services and running a number of farms. As a result, apprentices, who are hired to work in one part of the business, will be offered experience in a least one other area.
They will also work towards a recognised qualification such as an NVQ or Duke of Edinburgh Award and, if suitable, will be given the opportunity to join a management training scheme.
Apprentices can likewise become members of the Co-op itself, which is owned by five million consumers, and will be introduced to its Social Goals programme to learn about the organisation’s campaigning work. The aim is to broaden the apprenticeship scheme to include all young starters at the £14 billion Group over time.
Other initiatives that the Co-op intends to invest in as part of its campaign are a £2 million ‘Truth About Youth’ national programme, which will attempt to challenge and change negative views of young people.
Some £1 million will be spent on a national ‘Co-operative StreetGames Young Volunteers’ scheme to provide sports coaching to 3,000 youngsters from the UK’s most disadvantaged areas, while a further £1 million will be in invested in ‘Sports Opportunities’ and ‘Arts Opportunities’ initiatives. These are intended to discover and nurture potential stars of the future.