Sold in over 200 countries, Coca-Cola is one of the world’s greatest brands, synonymous with a fun and active lifestyle and undertakes programmes of training and development including for young people. Sharon Blyfield has worked for the group for 29 years, starting at Cadbury Schweppes in finance, then Coca-Cola and Schweppes in sales for eight years, then in human resources for Coca-Cola European Partners, now known as Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP). Sharon feels very fortunate to have spent such a long time in one corporate entity, “I tell people that I’ve been lucky enough to have had three careers in one place!”

As part of her broad-ranging role as Head of Early Careers, Sharon oversees the training and development of 58 early careers apprentices in the business. Putting that in perspective Sharon says, “We have around 3,300 employees in Great Britain, and that represents around 1.7% of our workforce. We really try with our apprentices to retain them and place them into career pathways in the business.

In terms of developing our talent pipeline, those on our early careers programme can move onto our career-builder programme apprenticeships as permanent employees, there are lots of opportunities and pathways we can explore with individual apprentices.

While Sharon is clear that technical skills and the ability to develop them are important, she is keen to point out that it’s crucial for apprentices to demonstrate soft skills such as good communication, teamwork, confidence. “To help develop these attributes we create opportunities for our apprentices to interact with our business leaders and undertake ambassador training so they can go out to schools and talk to students not much younger than themselves.” This is very popular with apprentices who are actively looking for ways in which to hone their skills. “Quite often apprentices get very proactive, asking if they can take part in opportunities, saying, “can I join this particular programme?” Then of course, their peers want to join in so it’s a really positive effect.”

CCEP takes part in the Kickstart Scheme led jointly by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Federation providing a six-month paid job experience for 16-24 year-olds on universal credit. The scheme has enabled thousands of young people to gain real industry experience and in the case of the CCEP programme, young people receive a food and drink manufacturing ‘passport’ confirming their readiness to take up a job in the industry.

There have been some surprises with young people on the programme as Sharon explains, “What we’ve found is that although young people think of themselves as being digitally savvy, always using their phones and engaging on social media, they quite often don’t know how to use the Windows programmes such as Word or Excel or how to construct an email or a CV. These are some of the things we teach them because when they are successful in interview and get a job, they need to be able to use these programmes to perform well in their roles.”

The first collaboration CCEP had with us was through WorldSkills UK LIVE the nation’s largest skills, careers and apprenticeships event held annually each November at the NEC in Birmingham. “It was a real eye-opener, before that we were quite blinkered, it wasn’t just another careers show, but significantly more than that. In taking part in WorldSkills UK LIVE we’ve been able to engage with young people from diverse backgrounds and inspire them in working towards fulfilling careers. In the second year onwards, we looked to engage much more with young people there, talking to them about the skills they would need to do different jobs in the business, rather than simply saying, these are the jobs that are available. It’s a one-stop shop for all careers and vocational pathways, and really hands-on, it helped us reach our engagement targets.

“The Covid pandemic halted LIVE in 2020 and so we had to look at other ways of reaching our youth audience. We held masterclasses on how to make an application for employment. Our partners got access to our programmes to reach out to young people. We also built a virtual work experience platform through which to step into the organisation. There was an on-demand element as well as zoom sessions with partners and we refreshed our early careers web presence.”

In terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion, CCEP has developed its commitment around inclusion and diversity delivering an equality programme and looked to work with us to achieve its objectives.

Our early careers work supports our strategy in three ways. Firstly, on gender inclusion, we want to see more young females come into the business and are aiming for 50% senior managers and above to be female. Secondly, we’d like to see more black and Asian people coming into the business and have an ambition to make this representation 13% by 2025. Finally, we want to see more people from socially-deprived areas and those at risk of long-term unemployment.

CCEP is the headline sponsor for the WorldSkills UK Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Awards since its inception in 2019 and Sharon sees this as both a collaboration and a journey together. “Being partners supports each other and fits both our agendas. As a member of the WorldSkills UK EDI Advisory Group, CCEP brings experience and big-player perspectives. There are activities that CCEP runs which others can emulate, and there are activities in other sectors that CCEP can learn from. We’re all on a journey and there is no silver bullet, so we aim to improve all the time.” Sharon thinks the involvement with us also builds a great network for youth connection and helps provide one solution to the big question, “How can we all make a difference together?”


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