Brewing up a good idea

Over the next few months Costa Coffee will share its experiences of setting
up a pilot for the first modern apprenticeships in the coffee business

To enhance the retail skills of its workforce, Costa Coffee, with sole
training provider Acorn Learning Solutions, is introducing a vocational
training programme within the workplace, to produce the next generation of
specialist coffee experts or baristas and the managers needed to ensure the
future of the brand.

How it all began

Costa Coffee, where 3.7 million cups of coffee are made by hand every week,
wanted to ensure the excellence of its coffee throughout its 300 stores across
the UK, Germany and the Middle East – with plans to expand to 500 stores by
2005 – while simultaneously developing the skills and knowledge of its
store-based employees.

On 13 February, Grace Coleman, Costa’s head of learning and development and
Acorn Learning Solutions’ business development director Donna Rudolfo, met to
brainstorm a way forward to build on Costa’s existing internal learning
programme, The Journey.

The aim was to satisfy the needs of the company as embodied in The Journey
while at the same time providing staff with access to nationally recognised
qualifications.

"Founders, Bruno and Sergio Costa always maintained a passion for
perfection at every stage of the coffee-making process which has been
instrumental in their success," says Coleman.

"This culture of passion and quality underpins the Costa HR strategy
and 12 months ago we launched ‘The Journey’, a learning and development
framework in line with our business strategy. Based on four stages, the
programme covers everything from recruitment and induction to
personal/professional and career development.

"The philosophy of The Journey is to encourage employees to take
personal ownership for their development. By developing an accredited learning
programme that will drive the operational excellence within its in stores,
Costa will be able to reinforce and embed learning from the recruitment and
induction stage and provide a stepping-stone to the realm of personal and
professional development."

On 15 July, 31 volunteers from across the South West Region – comprising
nine store managers, eight team leaders and 14 team members – gathered at the
Marriott Hotel in Bristol for the launch of the pilot of the first
NVQ/Foundation Modern Apprenticeship programme of its kind.

According to Rudolfo, the programme offers 16-24-year-olds a 12-month
Foundation Modern Apprenticeship, with over-25’s eligible to complete a
fast-track learning programme to NVQ Level 2.

"Costa Coffee already had an excellent in-house training programme in
place, and the new custom-made modern apprenticeship programme dovetails with
it perfectly," says Rudolfo.

"By combining elements such as stock control, point-of-sale systems and
customer service with modules in food hygiene and serving hot drinks
traditionally associated with the NVQ in catering, we are able to equip staff
with the necessary know-how as the business expands.

"The NVQ/Modern Foundation Apprenticeship programme has been designed
to enhance the second phase of ‘The Journey’ and should the pilot be
successful, will result in a national roll-out across the Costa stores in March
2004. Not only will staff be able to apply what they do on a day-to-day basis,
but they will receive a qualification accredited by the London Chamber of
Commerce and Industry (LCCIEB)," she adds.

Adapted

Monitored by Acorn’s regional training and development adviser Natasha
Gamble, it was important that the programme could be adapted to suit specific
learner needs.

Each employee was assessed individually and a learning plan drawn up to
identify issues that might hinder the success of the programme. As none of the
employees had any special learning needs, Gamble was able to go straight into a
two-week induction course with Costa Coffee and parent company, Whitbread.

"For me to accurately observe, support, advise and assess the Costa
employees, I needed to know exactly what they did each day and how this slotted
in with the service philosophy of the company," says Gamble.

She initially set up a schedule to visit each store on a fortnightly basis,
but as a result of the overwhelming success of the first pilot, Costa made a
decision to launch a second across the South East on 5 September. To
accommodate the 22 new learners, Gamble changed her visits.

"Costa is a very busy company and I would find that some learners did
not have a chance to do any of their work for my next visit. After speaking to
the employees themselves, I rescheduled my visits to a three-weekly basis to
give employees more time to complete the questions and assignments.

"Overall the feedback has been very positive and enthusiastic."

However, as with all new training programmes, there were some hitches. Four
weeks into the programme three employees withdrew from the pilot. When
questioned about their reasons, it emerged that one had enrolled for university
and the other two did not feel the programme suited them at the time.

To prevent this re-occurring, Rudolfo reiterated the seriousness of the
commitment required during the launch in the South East and new learners were
carefully evaluated before starting the programme.

It was still felt that learners did not have the required time to complete
assignments during working hours and although some were happy to take
assignments home, it was decided to allocate one hour per learner per week to
encourage learning within individual stores.

"Most learners are finding the programme fits well with their working
practices," says Rudolfo.  "There
have been suggestions of introducing higher level NVQs and a few managers have
said they would like to start on a higher level to be more challenged. However,
they feel it is an excellent NVQ/FMA programme for team members and leaders and
it will encourage them to learn more and will reinforce what they already know.

"On the whole everyone doing the NVQ feels that it is a great extra
role within their existing position," Rudolfo adds.

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