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Hot topic: are graduate management schemes a façade for talent on the cheap?


Last month, Asda unveiled a fast-track retail management scheme, which will offer 15 graduates an opportunity to become a manager in a year. Asda launched a programme of apprenticeship training designed to offer a vocational alternative to university and joined employers including McDonald’s, Aurora Fashions and KFC in training graduates and apprentices. But are these programmes a way of bringing in cheaper managers, a social mobility exercise or a mutually beneficial business strategy?

Julia Durbin, people and organisational development director, Aurora Fashions

As we all know, life and business are continuing to move at a fast pace and it is a critical requirement for a retail business such as Aurora Fashions [parent company of high-street retailers Coast, Warehouse and Oasis]that we have the people in place that can respond to the changing landscape of work.

We need a steady stream of talented individuals who can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the organisation.

Developing our teams is a key part of being able to achieve that - it is not just a 'nice to do'.

We have a generation of would-be entrepreneurs coming in to today's businesses who tend to spend just over two years in their first job.

Providing access to learning and development and a range of career opportunities is a demonstration of our investment in them and also a message that you can grow and develop within one organisation, particularly the case in a business such as Aurora where we have a number of brands within the group, as well as a shared services infrastructure in the parent company.

I believe that the career opportunities here are endless, as is the range of new and leading-edge initiatives a member of staff can get involved in as part of our group business.

In creating our academically-accredited retail development programme, Aspire2Accelerate, we wanted to tap into the talent that already exists within Aurora.

We understood that providing an alternative vehicle for obtaining academic qualifications - at a time when university tuition fees have increased and youth unemployment is high - would be greatly valued by staff.

This absolutely isn't a cost- cutting exercise for us; we have invested in this programme with our partners at the University of Derby to ensure we have talented individuals ready to take up key retail roles within our business, and to encourage our talent to stay and grow with us.

Ann Potterton, chief executive officer, Institute of Telecommunications Professionals

Can you learn to run a supermarket in a year? No.

Can you learn to do the same in two years? Probably not.

Learning to do your job well comes not only with training, but with experience - and most people will admit they learn something new every day. If they do not, then I don't think they're paying attention.

In the case of apprenticeships and management training courses, employers such as Asda are damned if they do and damned if they don't .

At a time of increasing unemployment, fewer opportunities for graduates, and a lack of solid training schemes, these new openings will be welcomed by the very folk we claim to be serving: young people looking to build a successful and fulfilling career. As for the criticism of cost-cutting, isn't that a valid concern in this day and age?

My own area of expertise is telecoms apprenticeships. We have just launched our own apprenticeship scheme, bringing more young people into the industry in a way that is manageable and cost-effective for employers. Many senior telecoms personnel started off as apprentices, and it offers a tried and tested route into a thriving sector.

We have a duty to provide the best training to apprentices.

And why wouldn't we want to? After all, it's not just apprentices who benefit from it - employers do as well. By offering quality training that results in recognised qualifications and on-the-job experience, we can make our industry more attractive to high-calibre applicants.

The trainees of today are the talent of tomorrow - and I am sure that is something the brains at Asda have already considered.

Offering apprenticeships or fast-track training isn't about taking advantage - it's about creating opportunities for them.