Apprentices head to parliament

FWD Skills and Development Awards recognise the brightest young talents building careers in the industry

One of the most enjoyable events in the wholesale event calendar is the annual FWD Skills and Development awards for apprentices and trainees. The pre-Christmas awards season seems to grow longer every year, and FWD’s own Gold Medal presentation night at the end of this month is among the biggest draws, but there’s something very special about this little afternoon gathering on the terrace at the House of Commons.

As an industry we understand the need to attract and nurture talented people who will commit to a long-term career in wholesale. In that aim we have the support of government, which has its own targets for getting young people into apprenticeships and training courses which lead to secure, sustainable jobs. Once a year we choose a few trainees from across the FWD membership and take them to Westminster and introduce them to ministers and their constituency MPs. It’s a wonderful thing to see a newly-qualified 21-year-old LGV driver from Aberdeen chatting to the Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships over a sandwich, explaining how he sees his career developing through a series of training and development programmes.

Many of the parliamentarians who joined us earlier this month have a particular interest in jobs and training. As well as Skills Minister Anne Milton, we had the shadow ministers for Further Education and Employment, the Chair of the Skills and Employment Parliamentary Group and the Government’s Apprenticeships Ambassador. That’s a fantastic audience for this showcase of talented people and the investment that goes into them, and the 13 award winners did a great job as ambassadors themselves on behalf of our industry.

Getting those parliamentarians’ attention for a short time is a valuable investment for FWD. Based on their interest in our businesses and their commitment to training, the FWD team will follow up with these senior politicians and explain to them some of the barriers that prevent us from bringing on new talent as much as we would like to. Those who came to the event will be invited to visit a wholesaler or distribution centre in their constituency, so they can learn more about the economic and social impact of FWD members and their customers.

It was also great to see that more than half the winners were women. Last month FWD announced that 50% of its training bursary grants, and over 60% of the total value of funds awarded for career development, had gone to female applicants in the last 12 months. Coinciding with the Women in Wholesale event which we sponsored, these two statistics suggest that the gender imbalance in our sector, particularly in the higher echelons of management, is beginning to change.

It’s a pleasure to hear some of the stories from the award winners. Many of them started in low-paid jobs with little responsibility, but with the help of their employer they gained both skills and confidence and are now moving into supervisory and leadership roles. Along the way they’ve acquired vocational qualifications as well as real-world experience, and they’re making a significant contribution to their workplaces.

I’d like to thank JJ Food Service, Brakes, Costco and Booker and Bidfood for bringing their trainees to the event and into the parliamentary spotlight. We know there are more within the sector who are developing their people just as enthusiastically, and as the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy works its way though I suspect we’ll see even more examples of investment that benefits both employer and employee.

it’s a little early to lay down marker for next year’s event but let me set a challenge for the FWD members – let’s get twice as many apprentices and trainees down to London for 2018. It’s a great event, a real opportunity for wholesale to show its colours, and a day out that our most valuable assets will remember for a long time.

event calendar FWD awards Skills and training wholesale