Central England Co-operative has received the IGD Employability Award, in part for a project that enables young people with special educational needs to take part in work experience placements.
The award is given by grocery experts IGD to an organisation that has introduced an outstanding, best-in-class employability initiative over the last 12 months
The society impressed judges with its long-term partnership with Selly Oak Trust School, the largest single site school in the UK for students who need additional support. The SENse to Aspire programme enables these students to gain work experience in the organisation’s food stores and florists.
“Central England Co-operative impressed all the judges with its fundamentally different and refreshing approach to employability,” said Tamsin Jones, head of business partnering & talent at Mars, which sponsored the award. “What was inspiring was its passion and the collaborative approach taken to work across its own business and with key local stakeholders. The initiative has driven real differences in supporting young people on their ‘journey to work’ and working closely with special needs students to give a ‘sense to aspire’.”
Reports from the Department for Education have shown that students with learning disabilities only have a 7% likelihood of finding employment, and that a key barrier for many young people with learning disabilities entering work is the lack of support available.
“Normally we would have very few opportunities for our students to take part in work experience, because companies find it very difficult to have more than one or two at any one time,” said James Hawkins, assistant headteacher at the school.
“An idea came about through the business class programme, that we wanted students at Selly Oak to take part in purposeful, meaningful and realistic work experience placements.”
From this initial idea, the project grew, and alongside the work experience model, Central England offers student-focused masterclasses, CV masterclasses, and an internal Journey to Job programme.
Last year 92 students completed work experience with Central England.
“The confidence and development Central England Co-operative provided for people through its schemes is life-changing,” added Ms Jones. “The impact it is having – both on its business’s talent agenda but more importantly on the lives of others in its community – is inspiring.
“It has also developed a scalable model to be able to deploy to other regions and groups, so is expanding its positive impact with clear future goals. This entry possessed real ‘stardust’ quality.”
Continuing their success, Central England has also posted strong interim results for 2015 in spite of the retail sector continuing to face difficult market conditions.
In the first half of the year, the society increased profit for the period by 15% to £14.7m and invested £14.3m in the development of its business operations.
“Although the challenges faced by the retail sector show no signs of abating, we have once again demonstrated that the Society’s clear strategic focus is resulting in strong progress,” said Martyn Cheatle, Central England chief executive. “The financial investment in our business operations is mirrored by the investment made in the communities where we trade and we believe that this is a key point of difference for our Society.”
During the period, the organisation also achieved IIP (Investors in People) accreditation for the whole of the business, opened seven food stores and two new funeral homes, and paid out £2.8m to stakeholder groups of members, employees and communities.