Sewell on the go has been recognised as among the country’s best places to work

Two Top 50 Indie forecourt operators are looking to recruit from care-leavers to fill a shortfall of workers in the retail industry, and give a helping hand to those who often find it hard to get on the first rung of the career ladder.

Sewell on the go, whose parent company Sewell Group has just been recognised in The Sunday Times Best Places to Work list, says it is considering signing up to the Care Leaver Covenant, which is designed to encourage the recruitment of young people who have been in care, having heard a presentation on the subject at an ACS conference in Birmingham last month.

“We have the details that we will discuss at our next people meeting so we have done nothing yet, but for us it is another route for recruitment,” said Sewell on the go finance director Alex Mortimer.

“We don’t recruit on experience, we recruit on culture and attitude,” she added. The presentation, in which a couple of female care-leavers asked retailers to set aside opportunities, apprenticeships, and mentoring specifically for those leaving the care of social services, had a profound effect on Alex. “It actually had me and a colleague in tears, as the girls that came to tell their story were amazing,” she said. 

Alnwick-based Penny on the Move, which has 93 forecourts, is also considering the scheme, which is funded by the Department for Education and aimed at supporting care leavers aged 16 to 25 to live independently.

Its chief operating officer Vicky Hennessy said that she had asked the business’s human resources department to look into the initiative after attending the ACS event. “It is definitely another avenue. Sometimes I feel like we have explored everywhere and are still not getting people applying especially in the more rural areas,” she said, despite the business paying staff above the national living wage.

“We have spent an awful lot of money on agencies, posting job adverts on Indeed, and recruiting, only for staff to leave in three months after time has been invested in their training. I think this route might lead to a more loyal worker potentially. Gen Z seems to have little loyalty jumping from one £12 an hour job to another.”

With around 125,000 vacancies in retail, and the sector accounting for up to 10% of UK jobs, a new report highlights how high street and online retailers are partnering with organisations to promote the recruitment of under-represented parts of the population, including older people and career returners, refugees, prison leavers, disabled people, care leavers and ex-armed forces personnel.

Retail - Employment Opportunities for Everyone, released on May 13 on behalf of the Retail Sector Council gives examples of how retail businesses including Midcounties Co-op, Central Co-op and Lincolnshire Co-op are creating career opportunities for people it says who might otherwise be overlooked.

The Association of Convenience Stores co-ordinated the report, which features the work of charities such as Working Chance, Career Returners and The Prince’s Trust. ACS chief executive James Lowman said there are mutual benefits of such schemes for retailers and these under employed groups: These brilliant colleagues are an integral part of the retail workforce and we hope that this report encourages more businesses to look to the under-utilised parts of society to fill vacancies and provide life-changing career opportunities,” he said.

This comes as forecourt retailers report challenges in finding staff, especially in certain parts of the country and for shifts covering anti-social hours. 

Hull-based Sewell on the go has a full complement of staff, but said that earlier this year it was struggling to recruit night workers to its 13 sites, which all operate 24 hours. It currently pays 60p an hour extra for night shifts, which Alex admits might be part of the problem with some employees expecting a very different rate for night work. “It’s all about fairness for all of our staff to be paid a fair level,” said Alex. “Night shifts suit some people and they will be a lot less busy during these quiet hours.”

Alex says that how they have got around this is by posting mini profiles about staff and asking those looking at its social media outlets and website if they identify with a particular employee’s home situation, giving them the suggestion of a type of job they might not have considered before.

“We have done a lot of story-telling on Facebook and our website featuring a member of staff and asking ‘Is this you?’,” said Alex. For example, night working might suit a student or a parent who wants to be around for school pick-up and drop-off and can sleep while their children are at school.”

Penny on the Move meanwhile, says that the business has turned a corner this year after the industry was hit with a swathe of potential recruits moving over to hospitality after Brexit. It now carries out employee engagement surveys which has shown it one way to keep staff is to train them up so that they can pursue a career in the business.

This year it appointed a full-time learning and development co-ordinator to work alongside the human resources team and management to ensure that training is up to date and adequate. It has also switched its online staff training resources to Learning Pool.

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