Karen Walker is looking for enthusiasm and a willingness to learn among the learners she sees at Greggs

Greggs is a baker and a retailer with ten regional bakeries and a central savoury plant supplying more than 1,680 shops across the UK. We employ around 20,000 people.

We work with various disadvantaged work groups ranging from ex-offenders, homeless and the long-term unemployed.

With almost a million 16 to 24-year-olds currently unemployed, we want to play our part in providing training, mentoring and hands-on experience to help provide young people with a greater opportunity to get a job. So what have we done?

Working in partnership with Job Centre Plus, we offer our tailored work placement programme, A Taste of Greggs, to young people who are work-ready.

A placement can be a fortnight or four weeks and offers participants practical knowledge and skills to put on their CVs, allows us to provide them with a reference and, where vacancies have arisen, the opportunity for young people to secure employment with us.

People work in a variety of roles within our head office departments, shops and bakeries. Since launching the programme two years ago, we have been able to offer paid work to a fifth of the young people who undertook a placement with us.

We’ve had great feedback from people on the programme. They all said that without it they wouldn’t have gained valuable experience or a reference, and in a number of cases a new job.

One participant, who was offered a permanent role in our payroll function, described it as a “lifeline”.

We find that individuals who have never who have been unemployed for a long period of time find it difficult to apply for jobs through normal recruitment processes.

Without experience, employers don’t know their track record and it’s hard to establish whether they’re good at timekeeping or whether they would fit in.

To help with this, we work closely with selected work providers who source work-ready candidates for us to take through one of our group selection events, where we focus on customer service, team working and communication skills.

This enables individuals to build their confidence and gain experience of the types of recruitment processes in the jobs market.

The benefit of using work providers is that they focus on training for the skills we require in the workplace — skills such as food safety and customer service, and they help individuals develop their employability skills to help them work to a daily routine.

They also talk to them about working for Greggs, so that they know our history, roles and benefits before group selection.

Having identified a skills gap in the bakery industry, we also established a two-year apprenticeship scheme aimed at getting young people into baking.

We recruited five people onto our scheme in December 2011 in partnership with the North East Chamber of Commerce.

The apprentices have gained an NVQ in manufacturing operations and have been involved in all aspects of the bakery operation from food technology to logistics.

But we’re more interested in a young person’s employability skills than their qualifications and previous work experience. We’re looking for personality, attitude, flexibility and reliability.

We’ll look at their extracurricular activities such their volunteering achievements.

We have been able to benefit from the Youth Contract and we have reinvested this funding back into the work that we do with disadvantaged work groups, enabling us to do even more — it’s a win-win.

Karen Walker, Greggs resourcing manager

Read the apprentice’s point of view from James Davies, technical support apprentice at HIT Training here