Setting Up an Award Winning Apprenticeship Scheme

The Co-operative set up an apprenticeship framework for both intermediate and advanced levels, which won and a Princess Royal Training Award for excellence in training and employee development and a People Analytics and Planning Award.  It was designed for its own funeral business, but it also serves the whole industry. It is recognised by City and Guilds Group.  The scheme plays a key role in recruiting fresh staff into the industry. Over 2,000 new recruits have started a funeral apprenticeship since it was introduced.  

"This Apprenticeship Programme represents a step change for the Funeral sector. Creating development pathways through sustainable and accredited learning to ensure a robust talent pipeline has been challenging and rewarding. This work has further strengthened our employer brand and ensures that our customers continue to receive exceptional service."

Jackie Lanham 

Director of Group Talent and Organisational Capability

What was the rationale?

The Co-operative Group Apprenticeship Academy was launched in May 2011 with a remit of creating 2,000 Apprenticeships over 3 years.  The Academy forms a major part of the Group’s drive to inspire young people and support their future life goals and ambitions.
As an employer in the funeral sector, The co-operative were aware that customer demands were changing and expect a high level of service.  In order to remain sustainable it needed to continue to improve the skills and knowledge of its employees with an Apprenticeship, knowing that service was delivered, supported by a framework of approved standards.
As there was no Funeral Apprenticeship, The Co-operative looked to get a Framework written that fitted the needs of the business and would be available industry wide.
The Co-operative approached the National Apprenticeship Service and Skills Funding Agency to propose that a new framework was required.  After investigating that there was no such framework in existence, NAS and SFA allowed the development of this framework to be pursued.  

A working group was created and invited various employers to attend.  This was accepted by East of England Co-operative and Midlands Co-op as well as representatives from EDI. The Co-operative provided specialist support to this working group in the form of 2 Funeralcare specialists, Roz Milligan Resourcing and Development Manager within Funeralcare and Lloyd and Alys from The co-operative Apprenticeship Academy who had vast experience of the creation and implementation of Apprenticeships.  This group met regularly to create Apprenticeship Frameworks at Level 2 and 3.

What was the methodology?

The framework was first proposed in September 2011, with an expected completion of approximately 8 months.  A full project plan was formulated to include:

•    Initial e-mail consultation
•    Consultation interviews
•    Steering Group meetings
•    Up to 6 workshops to agree unit content and assessment guidance
•    Prepare units for Steering Group sign-off
•    Sign off milestone outputs
•    Assign level and credit to units
•    Develop draft rules of combination
•    Final Steering Group meeting to sign off project outputs and agree the way forward

Engaging stakeholders

Any new framework that is being created needs to have consultation from employers.  The Co-operative asked for consultation from a range of employers both large and SMEs.  Those employers that accepted this request were East of England Co-operative and Midlands Co-operative.  The Sector Skills Council that helped to write the qualification was Skillsmart Retail Ltd and EDI were the awarding body who ensured the qualification was fit for purpose and Specification for Apprenticeship Standards for England (SASE) compliant.  
The project team that worked on this framework were:

Lloyd Thomas (Co-operative Apprenticeship Manager) overseeing project
Alys Reeves (Co-operative Apprenticeship Specialist) experience in Writing Frameworks 
Rosalind Milligan (Funeralcare Resourcing and Development Manager) Funeralcare expertise
Cheryl Bott (Education Development Executive EDI) Awarding Body consultancy
Jo Woolfenden (Qualifications Quality Assurance Manager Skillsmart Retail) Sector Skills Council Quality Assurance and Unit Combination
Cara Taylor (Apprenticeship Manager Skillsmart Retail) Created overall Framework Components and ensured Framework is SASE compliant
Funeral Director, other Employers and Industry Specialist Consultation: Mark Brown, Kate Edwards, Chris Doggett, John Cheesman, Matthew Barber, David Butcher.

It was disappointing that there were no SMEs participated on the project team, but understood the time commitment would make it difficult to be involved.

The group met at Skillsmart offices in London at least once a month.  The input from the Sector Skills Council and Awarding Body were vital to ensure the framework was fit for purpose and met the needs of all.  The industry expertise was also imperative to ensure the qualification content met the needs of the Funeralcare industry and would produce a suitably qualified Funeralcare Apprentice.

How difficult was it to implement?

Once the framework was in development, a cohort of 10 apprentices were employed, additional to headcount to pilot this qualification.  The vacancies were advertised through National Apprenticeship Service and over 1,800 applicants were received.  Recruitments strategies had to be amended to cope with the amount of applicants received.  

The training provider who were chosen to deliver the apprenticeship was LearnDirect (formally JHP).  As this was a new framework there were no suitably qualified staff to asses it.  It was finally agreed by the Awarding Body that Health and Social Care assessors could be used, if they had suitable care home management experience.    After the External Quality Advisor  approved each assessor they then undertook intensive funeral training within the Funeralcare Business, attending courses such as ‘the day of the funeral’ and ‘bringing the deceased into our care’.  They also spent time working in a Funeral Home, giving them a better understanding of the job and what it is like to work in this sector.  

Within Funeralcare, mentors had to be selected and trained to support the apprentices.  Specific training had to be written to ensure this happened consistently and they had the skills to equip them to be able to take on this role.

Important lessons were learnt

Towards the end of the original project plan it became clear that not enough time had been allocated to getting the framework funded.  It took a further 8 months beyond the estimated timeline to get the qualification on the Learning Aim Reference Application (LARA) with funding attached.   The Co-operative Funeralcare employed 10 Apprentices additional to headcount to pilot this new qualification.  They were employed in April 2012, to co-inside with the end of the project plan.  The start of the Funeralcare element of their qualification had to be delayed, but the Functional Skills, PLTS and ERR components of the framework were undertaken first, so that their development was not delayed. 

What was the impact?

Developing this framework was an investment of over £200,000 and a major investment in terms of time and commitment from the project team.  

The pilot of 10 apprentices was a great success, with half of the group already securing Funeral Director roles.  They have also been an integral part of promoting the Funeralcare Industry to a younger demographic through media activity, with coverage for National Apprenticeship Week on television, radio and various national and local newspapers.  One of the young apprentices fronted a poster campaign and has since become the face of Funeralcare, with her image being used on a national advertising campaign.  One of the young apprentices has also been elected as chair of the newly formed Apprentice Ambassador Group, who’s remit it is to promote the benefit of apprenticeships both to Co-operative’s and to the wider community.  

Due to the success of the pilot of 10 apprentices and the appetite from the Funeralcare business there are now over 150 apprentices enrolled onto this qualification, almost 10% of which are under 25.  All new members of staff within the Funeralcare business have the opportunity to study this apprenticeship, and it is hoped that other employers within the Funeralcare industry adopts this strategy to encourage young people to look at Funeralcare as a career choice. 

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