The Midcounties Co-operative has announced a new apprenticeship programme for 16 young people looking to take their first steps in a career in food retail.

The programme will provide a combination of training, guidance and study, along with hands-on retail experience to help participants develop a broad range of skills and knowledge to succeed in a career in the sector.

John Street, learning and development manager at the Midcounties Co-operative Food, said: “We aim to provide young people with the skills required to build a successful career in retail through the 18-month programme. Our previous apprentice schemes have seen participants quickly fast-tracked, with some now holding management positions. We are confident that this programme will leave our new recruits well-placed to follow suit.

“During the course of this programme, our key aim is to help our participants to gain real experience of important day-to-day responsibilities in store, in-turn creating well-rounded young professionals who can become the retail leaders of the future.”

The 16 apprentices were selected from 350 applicants who were screened through a two-stage process including a telephone assessment and face-to-face interview. The programme is also supporting some existing employees from Midcounties stores, who are keen to use the scheme to progress in their careers.

Ethan Hawkins, a 16-year-old apprentice at Midcounties Co-operative Food in Lydney, Gloucestershire, said: “When I left school, I was looking at apprenticeships in construction to begin with, but that changed when I found The Midcounties Co-operative programme whilst looking on I used to work part-time in a fish and chip shop and I really enjoyed customer service, so I thought maybe retail would be a good option for me. I haven’t looked back since. I’m learning a lot and the apprenticeship is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Also taking part is 31-year-old Ryan Pearson, an existing employee who joined the Midcounties Co-operative in February after opting for a career change. He said: “After 15 years working as a chef, I wanted to do something different, and it’s important to me to progress as quickly as I can. When my manager suggested this programme, I jumped at the chance. I’m now continuing to build my experience whilst learning on the job, and I’m excited about the opportunities this may lead to.”

Each participant has now become part of a store team for the duration of the 18-month placement, with vocational modules undertaken during off-site training days covering a range of key areas, including customer service, managing stock and payroll systems, security and health and safety.

The programme is a fully accredited apprenticeship backed by government funding. The scheme will return in 2017 for new applicants to apply.