John Lewis raised the bar for apprenticeship schemes this week by announcing plans to launch the “University of John Lewis”, a scheme aimed at further developing its internal vocational qualifications programme by offering a degree-equivalent course. The move is another stepping stone in the company’s efforts to professionalise the retail industry and promote a consistently competitive workforce.
Employees in positions of senior management will now be able to enrol in a pilot Level 6 vocational qualification, which is equivalent to an honours degree. The scheme will offer a number of “work-based” qualifications that will give the company’s employees the opportunity to acquire externally recognized certifications designed to progress their career development.
John Lewis has established a unique model of worker co-ownership, with all 84,700 employees recognised as Partners in the business. The retail giant understands that it is these Partners that give the brand its “competitive edge”.
“The aspiration for the University of John Lewis is to provide choice to our workforce by matching them with the right level of qualification and help them achieve their career goals,” explained Laura Whyte, Personnel Director at John Lewis.
“There is an old-fashioned view that retail doesn’t offer people long-term career opportunities, but that is just no longer the case,” added Whyte.
In addition to vocational qualifications, the “University” offers a number of other training programmes designed to sharpen staff’s product knowledge and line management skills. Its Leisure Learning programme also assists in developing skills to enhance employees’ day-to-day roles, including foreign languages.
The newly-announced qualification is set to build on a successful apprenticeship programme launched by John Lewis at the end of 2012, which offered 80 young people the chance to complete Level 2 and 3 vocational qualifications, equivalent to GCSEs and A-Levels. 1,330 staff members were awarded Retail Diplomas last year, with 32 per cent gaining the programme’s A-level equivalent of a Level 3 qualification.
With such innovations to the retailer’s unique business model, it is no wonder that John Lewis can boast annual gross sales of over £9.5 billion and awards that include “Retailer of the Year 2013” and “The Nation’s Best Retailer”.