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National Apprenticeship Week: How we can build skills for the future

Sharon Blyfield, Head of Early Careers | Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

4 min read Partner content

It’s that time of year again - National Apprenticeship Week is upon us, meaning it’s time to sit up and take stock.

The last few years certainly haven’t come without their challenges. But we haven’t let those challenges throw us off course – especially when it comes to championing the apprenticeship agenda. Dare I say it, we’re even starting to see the narrative on apprenticeships shift, with more organisations both small and large appreciating that this is a positive way to fill the future skills gap, with the current shortage of talent within the market, which links to this years’ National Apprentice Week theme Build the Future.

Within our own business we have put even more weight behind our apprenticeship programmes in 2021, expanding the number of apprenticeships we offer by 75%, and also re-introduced our graduate programme, so we can also offer young people a range of different routes into the workplace.

As we look to 2022, we want to build on this momentum and continue to offer a range of apprenticeships for all levels, whether a school leaver or a long-standing CCEP employee.

A first-rate option

One of the biggest challenges we face is in pitching our apprenticeships to potential recruits as many schools still do not see apprenticeships as being equal to the traditional formal education or higher education pathways and therefore are unable to provide robust advice to their students. For some time, there has been a stigma around apprenticeships, that somehow, they are a ‘second-rate’ option. However, there is a growing sense that this is changing. Employers like ourselves have been working hard to challenge that perception and position apprenticeships as a viable option for those who do not want to go to university, or for those who have recently left university.

As a result, we are beginning to see more young people who are interested in apprenticeships, and students who see them as a credible and legitimate alternative to university, which is heartening to see. We know we must continue to show young people what a fantastic alternative pathway they offer.

At the beginning of year, I had the absolute privilege of being awarded on OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, a huge accolade and a fantastic recognition of the success of our apprenticeships programme at CCEP. I am determined to use the platform this has given me to help amplify the alternative career paths available and the importance of apprenticeships in the UK.

Opportunities for all

To me, ‘building the future’ means building a workforce that is both relevant now and in years to come. That means creating a workforce that is as diverse as possible, which supports our action on society and links to our inclusion and diversity pillars. Since 2014, we have increased the gender balance from 25% female to 40% today, and 11% of our apprentices are now from a black or Asian heritage. This is a huge step forwards, but we are dedicated to going further.

For us, diversity also means challenging the perception that learning stops when you leave education. So, as well as offering early careers opportunities, we’ve extended our apprenticeships to existing employees through our Career Builder programme. As a colleague once said to me: “I always thought apprenticeships were for young people. Not true.” Her comment was encouraging to hear, and it’s something that’s starting to resonate within our business.

Since 2017, we’ve supported around 70 colleagues onto the Career Builder initiative – it’s fantastic to see so many want to use the programme to further their personal career journeys.

Going further

Although we have some great apprenticeship schemes in place here at CCEP, from Level 2 right up to degree apprenticeships, we want to push ourselves to be able to offer the most suitable route for everyone. That’s why we’re aiming to develop more traineeships and T-Levels so that we are offering as many additional pathways as possible to help those from any background who may be interested in a career at a business like ours.

We’ve just announced 27 apprenticeship vacancies across all areas of the business. We’re looking for ambitious individuals who want to learn and develop in their career, and who have a determination and a passion to succeed in their chosen field. I’m excited to meet our new recruits and welcome the next wave of talent.

Perceptions of apprenticeships are changing, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of that. But we know that there is still more that needs to be done to shift mindsets completely. We’re determined to give even more passionate people from different backgrounds the chance to take their first steps towards a new career path, at whatever stage of their learning journey.


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