Cost bravo

Adding value to an already exceptional learning and development programme is quite a challenge, especially if you find yourself working for the number one coffee brand in the UK.

In true Italian style, Costa prides itself on the quality of its coffee – preferring to own the entire process from bean to cup. And as the company continues its rapid expansion across the UK and Middle East, our commitment to ensuring the highest possible quality products is matched only by our need to ensure the quality of our people.

Thus, embarking on a potentially revolutionary training programme of this nature in partnership with training provider, Acorn Learning Solutions, required more than management buy-in – it needed to attract and retain talented team leaders and members who would become the managers of the future.

Joining Costa from my previous role as learning and development manager for the Budget Rent-a-Car brand of Avis in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, I found the high levels of excitement and support shown by Costa’s top management very encouraging.
With the aim of translating training and development into real business benefits, I spent the past five months largely revisiting and evaluating our current strategy.

Working from the premise that our staff are our customers – what we call the employer brand proposition – we went in search of the unique selling points (USPs) that would appeal to each of our target audiences.

For students, it was our ability to offer flexible working hours that attracted them to Costa. Similarly, our ability to offer positions within a closely-knit team was a definite plus for staff who wanted a semi-permanent or permanent position without all the added responsibility.

However, our offer of nationally recognised qualifications and on-the-job training set us apart from our competitors. Not only did this appeal to the semi-permanent or permanent employee, but it allowed us to recruit and retain staff who joined Costa to pursue a career within the business.

Our original strategy was to enhance Costa’s existing learning and development strategy by adding vocational qualifications; thereby ensuring highly-skilled managers, team leaders and team members to drive our business forward. In addition, we could also determine whether the programme would fulfil the company’s team member promise of developing people to their full potential, and rewarding excellence.

By re-assessing our initial objectives and incorporating the feedback provided during the pilot, we were now in a position to offer suitable alternatives for staff who had initially opted out of the pilot. These would not only help to fulfil employees’ personal and development needs, but also address those of the business.


With the rollout in the south due to be completed in the summer, another 20 employees were signed up to the programme, which we scheduled to start in June. Should all go to plan, we expect to roll out across the UK later this year.

Throughout the evaluation, constant and honest feedback between the employees, management and Acorn has played an increasingly important role in the programme’s success.

This has meant that we’ve had to adjust some of the managerial aspects of the programme, including the provision of more frequent and relevant management information, which in turn can be translated back into the business. Suggestions from our side have been readily received by Acorn, and its training assessors are now involved right from the induction period.

Our success rate has been 93 per cent, with just three dropouts since the programme began. Aimed primarily as an added incentive for core staff who seek greater recognition and the chance of gaining a nationally recognised qualification while at work, the introduction of the NVQ/Modern Apprenticeship programme has proved a valuable additional facet to our existing learning and development strategy.

As a brand, our image has progressed from an already highly successful company, to one that values every member of the team, and provides access to training and development avenues above and beyond any offered elsewhere within the industry. Furthermore, our retention levels are on the up, and we are excited at the prospect of continuing to set the pace for the UK hospitality industry.

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