Thousands of retail jobs have been lost since the start of the pandemic with two thirds of workers laid off during the past year being under the age of 25.
But one retailer bucking that trend is Specsavers, which has recruited more than 350 apprentices in the last 12 months – 88 per cent of whom are under 25 – and who plan to take on a further 600 during the coming year. Nearly 130 roles have been placed in the last two months alone.
Jo Carden, aged 18, initially went to college to study travel and tourism, but quickly left after feeling the route ‘wasn’t right for her’. Then, in January 2020, she enrolled on an optical assistant apprenticeship at her Specsavers Rice Lane.
She says: ‘I found the listing for the apprenticeship online, and I really fell in love with the job description. I had never thought about getting into this industry, but as soon I started the apprenticeship, I knew that this was the right path for me.’
Despite completing the majority of her apprenticeship during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jo has excelled throughout her training.
‘It was pretty worrying at the beginning of the pandemic, as I wasn’t sure how my apprenticeship was going to be affected, but it was handled perfectly. Everyone was so supportive and understanding of the stresses we were all going through to try to complete our training.
‘You could tell that everyone wanted us to receive the proper training, despite all the challenges. It was all very paced and never rushed, I only ever moved onto the next stage whenever I felt truly comfortable.
‘It’s definitely been a challenge, but it’s made me even more aware of the goals I have for the future. Now that I’m a qualified optical assistant, I aim to work my way up to become a dispensing optician, and then one day I’d love to manage my own store.’
Another successful apprentice is Annie Sherratt, 19, who recently completed her customer service apprenticeship at the Congleton store with an impressive three distinctions after beginning the process in August 2019 and completing it during the pandemic. Now qualified, she works full-time at the store as a contact lens assistant and runs its clinics.
Specsavers National Apprenticeship Manager Dena Wyatt says: ‘With the economy not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022, we think it is important to invest in our communities and do all we can to get the high street back up and running.
‘Apprenticeships will be key to rebuilding the jobs market, especially for young people. They can really help businesses develop and prosper and equip people with the skills and tools they need to become successful.
‘The Specsavers’ apprenticeship programme offers employees an excellent opportunity to enter the world of work in a safe and structured way, providing them with a real job and great training. An apprenticeship can mark the start of an exciting career, with around 94% of people on the scheme taking on a full-time job with us.
‘The scheme is open to anyone from the age of 16, including recent school or college leavers, or those who are simply looking for a new challenge.’
For more information visit jobs.specsavers.co.uk/apprenticeship