Why I champion apprenticeships in the FMCG sector

by Jaime Silvester


February 8th marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week across the UK, and this year the theme is ‘Build the Future’. Despite the UK lockdown, 60,860 apprenticeships started between  23rd March to 31st July 2020. The route is becoming increasingly popular for bright talent, both young entrants to the world of work and those looking to change careers or upskill their role– and I am incredibly proud to have kickstarted, the apprenticeship scheme at IRI. Giving people the tools and experience to start their careers, no matter their background, and develop their confidence is essential to our industry's future. Not only do we see incredibly bright, eager, and committed young people applying for apprenticeships with IRI, but as a company, we reap huge rewards from fresh, Generation Z minds in our teams.

Three years ago, we took on our first apprentice with great success - they recently graduated with a first-class degree, and we could not be prouder of them, their work, and the contributions they have made. Following this scheme we employed a further five apprentices in 2020 and are looking to expand the programme in the future, offering exciting possibilities for both the young people that come on board and for IRI as a whole.  

It is crucial that businesses focus on the future, innovation and thinking outside the box - all of which are at the centre of the apprenticeship ethos. We currently offer training and support in a number of areas of the business, and in this latest year, I'm very excited to have expanded our scheme further by bringing on board two new apprentices working with Co-op and Keele University.

Overall, there is a lot of scope to support both young people and those who want to retrain to develop their career and bring skills to our business. But how can apprenticeships benefit the wider FMCG industry, and why am I so passionate about them? Below I share some of the reasons I support the apprenticeship programme and what it means for our industry's future.

A unique approach to finding new talent

Apprenticeships have proven to be a great way to find talented people with passion and drive looking to start their careers. Embarking on an apprenticeship is a considered life choice. University isn't for everyone and offering apprenticeship opportunities allows young people another avenue into an exciting new career. Similarly, it also allows those who may not have had the time or opportunity earlier in their lives the chance to find their passion and expand upon their existing skill set.

In our experience, working alongside our apprentices often offers fresh, new perspectives on generally accepted wisdom and creates solutions that could have only been achieved through a new set of eyes sharing their thoughts and opinions.

It also means that there is a pipeline of emerging talent in the future looking for their first role to kickstart their career and grow with an innovative and forward-thinking business.

It's this desire to develop and provide opportunities for future generations that forms an important part of our partnership with Co-op.  Like us, Co-op feel that the scheme not only provides a ‘more diverse’ range of skills but also supports social mobility. IRI has partnered with Co-op to offer a number of apprenticeship placements in conjunction with Keele University working in the field of data science.

Discussing our partnership, Co-op's Head of Retail Insight, Adam Gitlin said, “when IRI came to us and talked about the importance they place on investing in young people, we were straight away on the same wavelength”.

As retailers seek to enhance their offerings for the future, big data and the skills to analyse it will be increasingly important. Nurturing those skills in the next generation is key to the growth of the FMCG industry. “Data touches every part of our business and in the decades to come, as the world becomes increasingly digital...your ability to use and understand that probably going to determine which businesses are still here and which are not,” said Adam Gitlin.

The benefit of new opportunities and perspectives

Apprenticeships don't just provide opportunities for new starters; they can also give existing staff a new challenge. Those who may not have had any previous mentoring or leadership opportunities can gain them working with apprentices through the programme.

Additionally, apprenticeships can give insight into areas that might not have otherwise been considered. For example, the first apprentice to be employed by IRI took on a project analysing how well-positioned we were to manage incoming Generation Z. Not only did this give us invaluable insight, it was also a unique combination of the perspective of someone from Generation Z who also had experience within our company.

Supporting future leaders and forward thinkers

Being within the technology and big data space, innovation is a core part of our DNA, and we're continually looking forwards to develop both ours and our clients' businesses. By taking on enthusiastic, driven individuals and showing them the possibilities of data science and retail collaboration, we can inspire the younger generation with an infectious enthusiasm for technology and support them on their journey to be the future leaders of our industry.

Allowing a partnership between our current staff members and the young people who work with us enables skills, passion and enthusiasm to be shared. Collaboration allows our apprentices to learn from their more experienced colleagues and take onboard past challenges and ideas when considering their own career path. It also provides them with a strong network which is such an advantage when starting out in your career.

What comes next?

In the future, we hope to see the IRI apprenticeship programme continue to expand across the business, finding and nurturing new talent and bringing in fresh, exciting new perspectives to help the FMCG data industry grow and evolve.

By investing time and attention now into our team's future, not only are we able to create new opportunities but we are helping to expand how we shape big data in the coming years, and that is exciting for everyone.

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