TJ interviews Whistl’s CEO, Alistair Cochrane

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Written by Debbie Carter on 3 November 2022 in Interviews
Interviews

Logistics and fulfillment specialists Whistl are committed to developing skills. TJ talks to CEO, Alistair Cochrane about their apprenticeship fund and why supporting skills is so vital.

One of the UK’s leading logistics specialists in e-fulfilment, mail and parcels, Whistl has invited small business who operate near their sites to apply for funding for their own Level 2 to 5 apprenticeship schemes through the Whistl Apprenticeship Fund. It has so far committed to fund 251 apprenticeships in 76 different organisations with a focus on early years learning, digital and engineering focused apprenticeships.

Here CEO, Alistair Cochrane tells TJ more about the company’s commitment to skills development.

Before we talk about your community support for apprentices, can you tell me more about skills development at Whistl?

Whistl strive to attract the best talent available to work in all areas of the company. A differential of Whistl over other employers is their continued investment in skills development. 

Almost 30% of the Whistl workforce has been with the company for more than five years, and they have an employee development programme which is designed to support staff to ‘Be the best at what you want to be’. In 2021, they used this initiative to attract and retain employees. We understand that people want to work in a company that will give them opportunities to upskill and to develop their potential no matter what their current role is. Their employee development programmes are crucial in supporting their staff in this.  

Research shows that young people who have at least four employer encounters, whilst at school are 86% less likely to be unemployed or not in education or training

This funding of apprenticeships is very generous. What was it that made you take this decision?

We are passionate about skills development and saw an opportunity to help small businesses that could not afford to fund their own apprenticeships by allocating the monthly surplus funds to them through the new transfer service. As an organisation, Whistl typically have £30,000 a month available from their Levy to fund apprenticeship training both within the company and the community. 

The company knows it is important to focus on early years learning as well as digital and engineering-focused apprenticeships. They are pleased to be able to make such a positive impact in the communities in which they operate in by investing in apprenticeship opportunities for organisations that are not able to benefit from the Levy Scheme.

Plus, Whistl really do invest in their own employees, providing opportunities for career development in all areas of the business whether through apprentice qualifications, the time limited Kickstart scheme, the HGV Driver Academy, or LEAP learning, an apprenticeship programme which is open to all employees who wish to further their career in leadership or management. Whistl are delighted that they can extend their programme to help provide people within the local community with career development opportunities too.

You have been prescriptive in the skills areas you will support – what made you focus on early years learning, digital and engineering skills and why are they so important to your community?

All of these focus areas directly impact who Whistl are as a business. They understand the importance of early years and part-time learning and have seen the direct effect a positive introduction into the work force has through their participation in the Enterprise Advisor scheme through GMCA. Research shows that young people who have at least four employer encounters, whilst at school are 86% less likely to be unemployed or not in education or training and can earn up to 18% more during their career. We recognise how important early years learning is to the community. 

Engineering is fundamental to the operations of a warehouse, and it’s important to entice the next generation of workers into this space. 

Do you think the apprenticeships that are now being developed are the solution to the current skills crisis?

Whistl have identified the areas of industry that can benefit from these schemes. Apprenticeships offer a lot to the industry, and they are important qualifications, recognising the skills required to undertake roles within the sector. Apprenticeships are crucial in keeping our logistics sector developing and functioning. By providing apprentices opportunities, especially at the start of their career, not only means there’s an alternative to the A-Level and University routes but also enables the industry to secure up and coming talent, and further develop existing talent within our workforce.  

Given the speed of change in our work environments these days are apprenticeship programmes flexible enough to ensure they remain fresh and fit for purpose?

The logistics industry is changing, and the flexibility of apprenticeship programmes is crucial to ensure they remain fit for purpose. 

At Whistl the latest qualification that has been launched is the Level 2 Sortation Hub Apprenticeship that was developed in association with the Institute of Couriers. Their existing employees have signed up for a year-long course that will formalise on-the-job learning into a nationally recognised qualification. This is an important qualification for the industry. It recognises the skills required to undertake the roles within our sector which are crucial for the functioning of the logistics industry in the UK. It also spotlights that there are programmes being made available that can support the industry with a new wave of workers whose skills are being developed on the job, and at an early stage. 

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