Pret A Manger is now recruiting for their 2017-18 School Leavers Programme (SLP) so if you want to start an Apprenticeship with a major high street retailer instead of choosing higher education, this could be for you.

Now in its sixth year, the programme is available to school leavers across the UK and each successful applicant is given a full-time shop-based role, as well as access to Pret’s training, support and work skills courses. By the end of 12 months, participants qualify with an Apprenticeship and a guaranteed, permanent role within the company.

There will be five SLP intakes this year from July through to October and to find out more about the programme and this choice of careerpath, we spoke with Kate, the Pret Early Careers Manager and Honeybea, a former SLP student now permanently employed by Pret. Here’s what they told us …

The application process

Pret advertise their SLP vacancies in the summer and the application process is very competitive with a high demand for places. Applicants are expected to complete the online form fully and show they have done their research by really understanding both the company and role they’re applying for – see below.

Honeybea is very positive about her own application: “I applied straight away, had a phone interview the next day, and started in my shop soon after.”

What sort of people make ideal candidates?

Kate says “We’re generally looking for school leavers with a passion for retail and a real interest in food, but not specifically those who want to become chefs. Ideally applicants will be enthusiastic and motivated individuals who are excited by their next challenge and raring to get going. Being able to get to one of our shops by 6am is also a must, so they shouldn’t be too averse to early starts.”

What we expect

“We do expect some understanding of what good and bad customer service means.” Kate told us, “And we expect applicants to have done their research and visited at least one of our Pret shops to get a feel for what is like before applying.

Academically, you’ll ideally have an A* to C grade in GCSE English and Maths, but if not we will try to help you gain these GCSEs.

And in terms of your CV, we don’t really expect you to have lots of work experience at this age or lots of qualifications, but we do look for an applicant’s personality to shine through and for basic employability skills such as good teamwork which can be acquired from part-time jobs, tasks undertaken in school and hobbies including sport.”

The role also involves lots of customer service and communication skills, and you’ll develop more along the way such as a great sense of independence and responsibility.

About the company

It can certainly help to understand a bit about an employer when you are applying for an opportunity and so the following may be useful.

Clive Schlee, Chief Executive of Pret A Manger recently said “Pret’s simple recipe of freshly made food and fast, friendly service allows us to flourish in diverse locations around the world – from Penn Station in New York to the campus of Exeter University and Dubai International Airport.”

Pret operate in six countries and have kitchens in (or very near) every shop so you won’t find ‘sell-by’ dates on their fresh sandwiches and salads. Their mission is to create, handmade, natural food, avoiding chemicals, additives and preservatives and they serve well over 300,000 customers every day worldwide with hopes to open their 500th store this year.

Pret’s most popular product across its stores is the croissant, but it continues to innovate and evolve its menu to changing customer tastes having introduced a number of dairy-free products with the most popular ingredient now being coconut and Pret is diversifying further now with two Veggie Prets, both located in London.

What is it like being on the School Leaver Programme?

You can expect a lot of variety in a Pret role, from being on the till, organising the stock, taking temperatures in the display cabinets, serving coffee barista-style, and looking after the customers. You can also expect a lot of readily-available support from the training team to help you achieve your Apprenticeship.

Honeybea recalls when she started: “It wasn’t easy at first; in all honesty it was quite overwhelming. Working was very different to being at school. It was strange being on the same level as adults and realising that your actions (and attendance) affect a lot more people than just yourself.

I didn’t have much confidence back then, but luckily I had an amazing manager. I remember the first time she handed me the keys to close the shop at night – I’d never had that much responsibility in my life. I checked that they were still in my bag every ten minutes that first night! It felt incredible to be given that much respect so early on and it made me realise that if you’re nice to people and work hard, they will want to help you.

And the atmosphere in Pret shops is fun and fast-paced. It isn’t always glamourous, but there are so many opportunities to make friends, grow as a person and work your way up the ladder. It’s hard work, but it’s taught me to be more thorough in everything I do and I am amazed by how in-control I am in my new role.”

Why choose an SLP over applying as a graduate?

Honeybea said: “Looking back, I shock myself at how far I’ve come. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot quicker than other people my age. I moved out of home at 19 and I’ll be three or four steps into my career by the time they graduate and start at the bottom of the ladder. Never mind pay off their student loans!”

The Pret A Manger School Leaver Programme vacancies are being advertised right now. With many thanks to Honeybea, Kate and the team for their help with this guest blog. @Pret

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