Learning through doing

Corporate social responsibility forms an integral part of Co-operative
Insurance Society’s HR strategy.  Pat
Ashworth, CIS training manager, explains how everybody benefits

The values and principles of an organisation are increasingly important in
attracting the right candidates for job vacancies. How a company deals with its
environmental impact, community involvement and work-life balance are something
a discerning jobseeker will take into account when deciding which organisations
to apply to.

How are the values put into practice once new staff are recruited? One way
is via training and development and volunteering opportunities, which can
improve staff retention and be used to harness the values of the business.

CIS has a strong set of values, rooted in the Co-operative movement, which
drive its commitment to being a socially responsible business. CIS’ community
involvement programme is a core element of its HR training and personal
development scheme.

Social awareness

One specific objective is to develop social awareness via community
involvement opportunities. Not only does this enable staff to give something
back to the community but it also offers an alternative method of team building
and skill development.

Its graduate training course highlights some of the practical skills needed
within the workplace (giving presentations, time-management) and introduces
CIS’ Social Accountability Programme. Graduates complete community challenges
as a group, creating a nature trail in a playground or a stimulating
environment for a children’s centre, for example. The graduates are required to
plan exactly how they will tackle the project and who will undertake which

The local Manchester and Salford Family Service Unit provides facilities for
pre-school children, after-school groups and social groups for older people.
Graduate trainees have been involved in brightening the place up.

Practical challenges are not limited to graduates. One of the social accountability
objectives for last year was for each CIS department to complete a challenge.
This included acquiring materials including paints, spades and protective
clothing, creating enthusiasm within the teams and making arrangements for
health and safety checks, refreshments and publicity.

For those relatively new in a department, it provides an opportunity to take
control of a project and to get to know colleagues. For an employee who has
been there for years, it is a welcome change from an office environment and
gives managers a chance to work as a real part of the team.

Staff are able to take time out of the working day to read with children –
particularly inner city schools. CIS encourages employees to become school
governors through the One-Stop-Shop scheme, aimed at recruiting those with
transferable management skills to get involved in inner city schools.

CIS staff are also involved in mentoring at schools throughout Manchester
and in environmental projects with schools through Global Action Plan. All of
these initiatives help to build a number of skills, such as leadership, team
working, organisation and improve self-confidence.

Another prime example was CIS’ disability awareness and training programme
for all its 10,000 staff, which concentrated on raising awareness of the issues
facing disabled people.

In conjunction with the North West Disability Service, CIS has also
developed a work preparation programme entitled Return to Work. The three-day
programme develops interview skills, confidence and general business awareness.
Candidates selected for the course are guaranteed an interview with CIS and
successful candidates are placed into a range of permanent positions. So far,
10 people have been placed into permanent jobs.

These community initiatives complement other forms of development, such as
the introduction of the CIS Training and Development Guide, which outlines the
range of learning opportunities. Details for staff are available online,
printed or through department representatives.

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