Looking after workers in a people-centred business

We speak to Amanda Gibbons, personnel manager at Heart of England Co-op

Taking care of employees is vital in retail – but even more important in people-centred businesses, such as co-operatives.

At Heart of England Co-operative Society, colleague training and development, along with retention of staff, is among the key aims for the organisation’s new personnel manager.

The move to a role at the 187-year-old society marks a return to her roots for Amanda Gibbons, who was born in Coventry – the home of Heart of England’s new head office – but raised in the west of Ireland.

After graduating with a BA in human resource management from the Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology, Amanda worked as HR manager for leading Irish retailer Dunnes Stores, and later SuperValu, also in the west of Ireland, as group HR manager. Between them, the two retailers hold the largest grocery market share in Ireland.

Now, her latest job move has brought her to the UK co-operative sector.

“I joined Heart of England as I wholeheartedly share its ethos and values,” she said, adding that the society’s colleague engagement and training was core to these.

“The society already has an excellent track record for the training and development of its staff, and for staff retention, with many colleagues seeing at least 25 years and some even reaching 50 years,” said Amanda.

Since her arrival she has worked closely with senior management and Catherine Evans (training manager) to devise a framework to give a clear picture of the capabilities and potential of every member of staff in the business.

The framework measures capability against performance, identifying opportunities for every employee to continue progressing through the business with the right support, training and development opportunities. The ultimate aim is to enable every member of staff to reach their full potential.

Encouraging education

As of the past year, Food Division employees who sign up to the society’s own new internal trainee manager programme are also now encouraged to complete a Level 3 Team Leader Apprenticeship, delivered by North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College.

The trainee manager programme looks at six modules including health and safety, people management, store standards, stock management, cash and security, and commercial awareness, while the apprenticeship modules include team management principles, leadership techniques, performance management, relationship management, communications, human resources and operational and project management, and financial management.

“The trainee managers are already reaping the rewards of the apprenticeship,” says Amanda. “We are now looking at ways to add to the programme, ready for the next intake of trainee managers later this year.”

Similarly, in the Funeral Division, every member of the team is trained to the highest standard, learning their skills through the National Association of Funeral Directors’ Diploma in Funeral Arranging and Administration, and the Diploma in Funeral Directing.

“While we aim to provide training and development opportunities to our core employees in the first instance, we are aware that we may also have customer service assistants that are with us part time while studying at university,” says Amanda.

“If, at the end of their course, they are interested in a career in retail we can give them every opportunity to progress through our business through the trainee manager programme, supervisor programme, personal development and academic programmes.”

Apprenticeship opportunities

It is the first year the society has embarked upon apprenticeships for its staff but Amanda says the scheme has already proven to be a huge success and the retailer is already looking at ways to take the trainee manager programme to the next level in time for the next intake of apprentices.

“Succession planning is key for us,” she says. “We want to recruit individuals with behaviours and attitudes that are aligned to our own values, ensuring that we have the right people in place who are willing to take on new rewarding challenges and move with us in the same direction.”