Subway has started offering intermediate apprenticeship places across a small number of stores in areas such as Tyne and Wear, Devon and Dorset. Nick Summers, reporter at FE Week and a former employee of Subway, gives his view on the new scheme.

Last week the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) were tweeting about a number of Subway stores offering prospective employees a level 2 qualification in customer service through various training providers including Lifeskills Centres Ltd and Gateshead Mbc Training Section.

The majority of the 18 openings currently being advertised on the (NAS) vacancy website are being delivered by First4Skills, “one of the UK’s biggest training providers.”

The mandatory units of their level 2 certificate, which will be delivered over a 12 month period, are to be able to communicate using ‘customer service language’ and to be able to ‘follow the rules to deliver customer service’.

Optional units of the apprenticeship qualification include maintaining a ‘positive and customer-friendly attitude’, dealing with customers face-to-face and resolving customer service problems.

These are all elements of basic training which will occur on the job anyway. I can say this with absolute confidence because I worked for the company almost every weekend during my studies in further education.

During my employment at Subway I learned a lot about being polite and professional in front of customers, handling customer complaints and working as part of a team.

Direction from senior staff was minimal, instead focusing on the technical skills needed to operate the various machinery both out front and in the preparation/stock area.

Very few of the unit headings in the level 2 certificate delivered by First4Skills require any technical ability whatsoever, and even less require a level of customer service which isn’t naturally picked up by the employee in the first few weeks.

It’s telling when the unit guide on the First4Skills website says the qualification is most suitable for customer advisers, contact centre operators and hotel receptionists.

The elaborately coined ‘sandwich artist’ job title used by Subway doesn’t even come close to making the list.

When questioned about the training delivered at Subway, a spokesperson for First4Skills told FE Week: “It is our policy not to disclose information about any of our clients without their explicit agreement and therefore we do not enter into discussions with any third party as a result.”

The vacancy specification on the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website says the apprentice will be paid £104 for working 40 hours each week.

The pay is in accordance with what was the national minimum wage for apprentices at £2.60 per hour, although the government announced an increase to £2.65 last week.

The rate is significantly lower than the minimum wage for adults, which increased by 11p to £6.19 an hour last week, as well as the rate for 16-17 year-olds and 18-20 year-olds, which stayed at £3.68 and £4.98 respectively

My fear is that individual Subway stores are being sold the apprenticeship programme as a vehicle to employing a new member of staff on a fraction of the usual salary.

When questioned, a Subway spokesperson told FE Week: “Subway stores do not operate a nationally accredited apprenticeship scheme however individual stores or franchises may have pursued their own scheme; any comment is entirely a matter for them.

There is some hope, however. One of the vacancies advertised on the NAS website is an NVQ Level 2 in food and beverage counter service, which has been “tailored to Subway” by the training provider Lifetime Health & Fitness Ltd.

The apprenticeship wage is still £2.60 an hour, but it at least offers training somewhat relevant to the profession.