Bentalls champions apprenticeships for retail sector

bentalls news_350pxWith the help of East Berkshire College, Bentalls department store in Bracknell – part of the Fenwick Group – has introduced an apprenticeship scheme to offer its staff the chance to develop their skills and gain a nationally recognised qualification.

As part of its commitment to staff development and delivering the highest standards of customer service, the well-known retailer is working in partnership with the College to train 16 apprentices (aged 18-50+) at its Bracknell store. And the individuals, the business and its customers are already seeing the benefits.

Store Director, Craig Strugnell, said: "As a company, we pride ourselves on investing in people. The apprenticeship scheme is beneficial for everyone. Developing and supporting our employees in this way, gives them the chance to improve their skills and recognise the importance of their role in the business. It also means our customers can be assured of receiving a first class service."

Bentalls, which employs over 200 employees at its Bracknell store, is a premium department store offering an extensive range of brands across womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, cosmetics and home.

Though traditionally the retail industry is not a sector automatically associated with apprenticeships, more and more retailers are recognising the initiative as a cost-effective way to develop their workforce and recruit fresh new talent.

Jacqui Cumbers, HR Manager at Bentalls in Bracknell, explains: "We offered apprenticeships to employees of all ages, from new recruits to long serving members of staff, and received an extremely positive response. Since introducing the scheme in March, the employees have grown in confidence, expanded their knowledge and developed a real sense of pride in their work. Ultimately, this has led to improved team morale and a higher quality of service for our customers.

"The College's flexible approach has made the whole process of setting up the programme very easy for us. As well as helping us access funding, they are able to schedule training around our busy trading periods to minimise disruption and tailor the course to our specific needs. In fact, the scheme has been so successful we are looking to run it again next year."

Fiona Allen, Assistant Sales Manager for Cookware, is one of the employees studying for the intermediate apprenticeship in Customer Service (NVQ Level 2). Having worked for the company for 13 years, Fiona was keen to improve her skills and gain a qualification.

"As it had been about 30 years since I last took any formal qualifications, I wasn't sure what to expect. However, the workload is manageable and everything I'm learning is relevant to my role.

"The course has given me a greater understanding of the entire business and made me look at things in a different way. I've particularly enjoyed learning more about retail law. Legislation is constantly changing, so it is important to know the latest information. Especially as I am often the first person a customer meets when they enter the store."

East Berkshire College trains hundreds of apprentices every year, in subjects from engineering to hairdressing, and even helps businesses recruit apprentices.

As well as the more traditional trade-based apprenticeships, the College offers new apprenticeships in areas such as IT, Business Administration, Accounting and Customer Service. A range of new higher apprenticeships (Level 4) are also now available.

For more information on East Berkshire College and its extensive range of apprenticeships call 01753 443855.

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