First learners from Lincolnshire Co-operative Society graduate from University of Lincoln

Learners from Lincolnshire Co-operative have become the first group of students to graduate from the University of Lincoln with a unique business degree. The foundation degree in business...

Learners from Lincolnshire Co-operative have become the first group of students to graduate from the University of Lincoln with a unique business degree.

The foundation degree in business management – a joint project between the University of Lincoln Business School and Lincolnshire Co-operative Learning and Development Team – marks the latest initiative in a long relationship between the society and the university.

Heather Lee, the society’s head of people and performance, says:  “We have an exceptional learning and development team and as an Investors In People gold employer, we recognised there was a real need for this course.

“Many people tend to ‘fall’ into a career in food retail and it is good to give people formal recognition for their experience and skills with the opportunity of an external qualification.

“We have worked with the University of Lincoln ever since it was established and given £1M in sponsorship over the last 10 years.

She adds: “We are also helping the university develop a school of pharmacy and its Science and Innovation Park, so we have a long history of working together.”

The two-year degree course was delivered by five trainers from the society, with a background in food retail, and academics from the University of Lincoln.

Throughout, the impact and significance of co-operative values and alternative business models was explored in a variety of modules and tasks for students.

“The overall aim was to define our co-operative difference and try and make that run as a thread for the two years of the course,” said Heather.

“It takes a look at our organisation, culture and priorities, which include continuous improvement and leadership, member participation and supporting the community.

“Our framework, ‘the three Es’ (exceeding everyone’s expectations) runs as a theme throughout.”

The degree also project work in which students use examples from their day-to-day work, including the challenge of planning an event.

Another bonus is the fact that Lincolnshire Co-operative Society funds the cost of the course, which is £3,000 per student for the two years of the foundation degree.

Nine colleagues from the society, from a variety of employee backgrounds including food, travel, funeral and head office, embarked on the degree course in 2012.

All of them completed the course, which concluded with a graduation ceremony in the splendid surroundings of Lincoln Cathedral.

“I thoroughly enjoyed completing the foundation degree,” said one graduate, Travel Group Manager Wayne Dennett.

“It has allowed me to align my qualifications with my level of experience – and individual elements of the degree have enabled me to enhance my skills within the workplace.

“It has also taught me the importance of reflecting on the tasks that I am completing, to assess whether there are better options for me to consider.”

Wayne is one of four of the original group who have decided to continue their studies and convert the degree into a BA (hons) with a further year of work.

Others are planning to follow after taking a break for a few years.

The degree course has been so successful that there is now a waiting list to join.

In the first cohort, the main interest was from middle managers with over 10 years’ experience but it is anticipated that future years will see participants from across the spectrum.

More than 20 Co-op colleagues are currently on different stages of the foundation degree with five retail apprentices and one trainee store manager in the current crop of students.

They include former apprentice Emma Ogden. Emma is now Burgh-le-Marsh Store Manage – and her progression saw her also recognised as Lincolnshire and Rutland Retail Apprentice of the Year and Overall Apprentice of the Year in 2013.

“We could have chosen a degree in retail management,” says Heather, “but wanted this to be of wider relevance for Funeral, Head office, Travel etc, hence our choice of business management as the degree title.

“Our target audience was staff interested in building and growing careers, especially to form an opportunity for continued learning and progression for former retail apprentices and trainee store managers. Putting staff on a degree course also gives them greater access to management opportunities.

“They all showed consistent levels of understanding of the different business tools needed and how they can be of benefit.”

All those involved in the course are delighted in its success and, adds Heather, plans are now in place so in future years, participants can be taken on a lot earlier in their careers.

She says: “We are very pleased that everyone who started the course has completed it. They all showed a very high level of understanding of different business models. We are also very proud of them because there is no underestimating the commitment it takes to work and study full-time.”

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