Whitbread - Finalist for the Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

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Finalist for the Unipart Award for Outstanding Employment

Ambitious growth plans means that having a talented and enthusiastic workforce is crucial to the ongoing success of the UK’s biggest hotel and coffee chain company, Whitbread. That's why targeting those from difficult backgrounds is a core part of the company's strategy.

Key highlights

  • Growth plans demand around 3,000 new people joining the business every year
  • By 2020, the company want to create 5,000 apprenticeships
  • Savings of some £1.7m have been recorded since 2013
  • Tturnover of WISE apprentices is 45 per cent lower than average staff turnover

As one the UK’s biggest hospitality companies, with hotels, restaurants and coffee shops in every corner of the country, Whitbread – the firm behind the Premier Inn and Costa brands – sits at the very heart of communities. And as the CEO, Alison Brittain attests, it feels it has a “responsibility and opportunity to act as a force for good”.

We’re passionate about creating jobs and providing people with opportunities to get into work, learn new skills and develop their careers with us.

Action has manifested itself in a number of ways, not least in the companies focus on creating jobs. It already employs 50,000 people in more than 30 countries. But it is not necessarily the amount of people it is creating jobs for, rather the types of people it is helping.

“Our people are the key to our success and it’s important that we create a great place to work for all of our team members. We’re passionate about creating jobs and providing people with opportunities to get into work, learn new skills and develop their careers with us,” adds Brittain. “We can make a real difference to peoples’ lives and the communities where they live.”

The Whitbread Investing in Skills and Employment programme

Whitbread does this through its WISE (Whitbread Investing in Skills and Employment) programme, a structured and quality-assured initiative designed to educate, engages and employ people who are often from difficult backgrounds.

By 2020, the company want to create 5,000 apprenticeships (for staff that want to gain nationally-recognised qualifications), 7,500 work experience places (for 11-18 year olds, giving them an opportunity to be inspired about work) and 6,500 work placements (for those not in employment, education or trading - the so-called NEETs).

It is a big ask, but one that Brittain says is “not just the right thing to do, but vital to building a sustainable business”. After all, the UK’s hospitality and tourism sector employment projections suggest 660,200 people need to be recruited by the end of the decade. With around 21 per cent of 16-24 year olds being unemployed in the UK, many of these young people have low self-esteem and limited aspirations forming employment barriers.

Success for Whitbread depends on recruiting and retaining a strong group of staff. Its ambitious growth plans demand around 3,000 new people joining the business every year.

Opening doors for apprentices

Whitbread’s workforce is young. Around 39 per cent fall into the 16-24 age bracket, and 60 per cent of new recruits each year are too – many of them NEETs, lacking the necessary skills for work. The business came up with its WISE programme in 2012 to “speed up, scale up and join up the way it interacts with the UK’s education system. It needs engaged, confident and skilled young people. And while offering work experience and apprenticeships is part of Whitbread’s heritage, it believes the WISE programme has created momentum for change, both within Whitbread and across the hospitality sector as a whole.

Since March 2013, 3,759 work experience opportunities have been completed; 4,264 work placements for the unemployed have been done; 1,638 full apprenticeships have been completed; and 803 young people are currently working towards an apprenticeship. An 100 per cent of the apprentices are on full time permanent contracts and being paid over double an apprenticeship wage. There is also a 34 per cent conversion rate from work placements into employment – particularly impressive given the hard-to-reach nature of those being supported.

Pre-WISE, Whitbread’s work experience and placements for young people was ad hoc, not monitored centrally and not time- or investment controlled. The rigorous recording of data and progress reports on both the social and business impact has made all the difference, says the business.

Reducing talent loss

Since 2013, recruitment, retention and progression savings of some £1.7m have been recorded. In 2014/15, 452 young people were recruited through placements and progressed to permanent roles, each resulting in recruitment savings of £1,728 – totalling £781,214.

Meanwhile, turnover of WISE apprentices is 45 per cent lower than average staff turnover, and 32 per cent of Whitbread Level 2 apprentices move into management roles within two years (compared with 20 per cent of non-apprentices).

By 2020, current modelling of data indicates huge financial benefits, including: reduced talent loss (£2.6m); reduced training costs (£5m); and, internal progression savings (£2.2m).