Sharon Blyfield OBE, Head of Early Careers at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners
The end of the year always marks a time for reflection. We’ve faced into a number of challenges in 2022, not just for the food and drink sector, but in every walk of life. But, as always, we remain steadfast in our efforts to make early careers opportunities more accessible for everyone.
In September, we welcomed 30 new apprentices and graduates onto our early careers programmes – our biggest intake yet. Ushering in a new cohort always prompts me to take a step back and look at how far our early careers strategy has come. Since 2014, we have recruited over 250 apprentices across the country as part of our ongoing commitment to support the development of new talent and to help build a diverse workforce.
However, as we head into tough economic times, it’s businesses like ours that need to think about how we plan to step up to the plate, to ensure the momentum we’ve built up in the early careers space doesn’t dwindle. For me, it’s important we think about how we’re strengthening our own apprenticeship and early careers programmes, but also how we’re working together with organisations outside our business to ensure school leavers or people paving a new career path have the best opportunities available to them.
Implementing your own and effective apprenticeship programme within your business is key, but we can always do more to go further and create a bigger impact.
The pandemic reinforced the power of the virtual world, and prompted businesses to come up with new and innovative ways to reach people. Our ReachUp programme – aimed at helping those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) – in partnership with UK Youth, went virtual during the Covid-19 pandemic. Following its success, earlier this year, we launched a new virtual on-demand work experience programme in partnership with our careers partner, Start, and the UK’s leading young charity for wheelchair users, Whizz-Kidz, that can be accessed by anyone across the UK.
The programme is aimed at young people aged 14-18 and undergraduates considering professional roles and gives a sense of what it’s like to work for our company, offering experience in a range of roles and industries including field sales, operations and marketing.
It incorporates a range of practical tasks, quizzes, real-life industry challenges, and video content to demonstrate specialist roles such as legal and accountancy, and participants will receive a certificate for taking part in the programme. Initially, the programme was geared towards school-aged students, but by opening it up to everyone, we’re reaching more people and exposing them to the opportunities on offer at a business like ours.
Over the past few months, we’ve been working with young people from Whizz Kidz, who have spent time at our offices and manufacturing sites to see how our business operates and learn more about the routes available to them, giving these young people even greater exposure to the variety and diversity in the world of work.
Creating more pathways
As a responsible business, we believe it’s important to help support other organisations in their efforts to remove barriers to entering the workplace. This means looking beyond the parameters of the food and drink sector to see how we can extend our impact.
Last year saw the start of our levy transfer for the London Ambulance Service. We pledged to donate £100,000 a year for three years so that the London Ambulance Service can fund training employees for an Ambulance Practitioner Level 4 qualification. We are just finishing our second year of the transfer, and next year we will ensure that we have another project just like this in the pipeline.
Since starting this levy transfer, we have also committed funds this year to employees at a children’s care home. We have donated £50,000 to enable the business to bring on and train more staff that are vital to its succession. The new employees are undertaking an undertaking “Young Peoples and Families L4 & L5” apprenticeship qualification, which will help ensure the children have the best care possible.
We have also supported the Government’s Kickstart scheme, bringing 24 people into the business in total via the initiative. We engaged youth workers and ensured that each participant had a mentor to guide them through the six-month scheme. Many of the Kickstarters came in with little to no experience and it is heartening to hear from them how much they have valued the experience. For some, it has meant they have chosen to continue with a career in the food and drink industry, and for others, it has helped them unearth skills they didn’t know they had. Six of the group have gone on to secure full-time positions with us.
Whether it’s internal initiatives or working with external organisations to pool efforts and resources, it’s important we do all we can to support under-represented groups, who otherwise might not have opportunities to jump onto the corporate career ladder. Often there is a perception that a job with a large corporate organisation is unattainable, but we want to break down these walls and make corporate careers more accessible to everyone.
Looking ahead to 2023
It’s been a fantastic year for our own apprenticeship programmes, and our apprentices themselves have taken home some accolades that we’re exceptionally proud of. Jennifer Kolonko, an engineer at our East Kilbride site in Scotland, was crowed Apprentice of the Year at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, and several of our other apprentices have reached the final stages of industry awards. Recognition like this makes us even more determined to provide opportunities for early careers, whether that’s within our own business or through working with external organisations.
Our mission for 2023 is to continue improving and strengthening our own early careers offering, while working alongside others to share and learn from best practice. Times are undoubtedly tough, and that means we’re going to need to rally together to provide support and opportunities for those who need it, helping people across the nation, no matter their background embark on a long and successful career path.