The Co-operative Group
Run and owned by its 5.5 million members, the Co-operative Group is more than just a supermarket. In addition to its flagship chain, the Co-op umbrella covers businesses as diverse as funeral-care, financial services and travel.
A large organisation that takes the time to develop the individual.
- Plenty of responsibility and autonomy
- Opportunity to work in a range of industries
- Extensive training programme – including a £1,000 budget for each graduate to spend on their development as they see fit
- Excellent work/life balance and flexible working options
- Huge opportunities for progression and personal development
- Quality of work and your workload can be a bit low in some departments
- It is a bit old fashioned at times
- Some of its processes can be slow
- No relocation budget for new graduates that have to move to Manchester
The Co-operative Group is the largest consumer co-operative in the world. The Group is owned and run by its 6 million members, who all have a say in decision-making. Membership is open to all, and each member receives a share of profits based on how the organisation performs during the year.
Rather than simply existing to make oodles of cash, like a plc for instance, The Co-operative Group is driven by social goals that benefit the community. That’s not to say the Group isn’t pulling in the pounds; The Co-op’s annual turnover now tops £13 billion! The Group brings in the bucks from 15 different businesses, as diverse as funeral-care and travel. Employing over 110,000 colleagues across its multifarious brands, The Co-operative operates from its base in Manchester.
The Rochdale Pioneers are recognised throughout the world as the founders of the co-operative movement. In 1844, 28 working men set up the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society and opened a co-op shop on Toad Lane in Rochdale selling basic items such as flour, butter, tea and candles. They decided it was time shoppers were treated with honesty, openness and respect, that they should be able to share in the profits that their custom generated and that they should have a say in the business.
This way of doing business was revolutionary. The pioneers believed that pooling resources, and ensuring everyone benefited, was the way to do business. The reputation of the co-op shop was soon established and customers flocked to it, certain that they would be served quality products at affordable prices. A set of firm principles underpinned this business and set it apart from other traders.
Between 1844 and the 1980’s the Co-operative went from strength to strength. With the Co-operative Wholesale Society being established in 1963 and later on The Co-operative Bank, the Co-operative grew to represent a similar family of businesses as it has today. By 1990 the Co-operative Pharmacy, Co-operative Bank and other subsidiaries were operating.
The ‘90s was a time of turmoil for The Co-operative Group. After losing a significant share of the grocery market, the Co-operative was struggling to gain enough market share in the retail industry to remain competitive. With a lack of brand consistency and low quality store fittings, the Co-operative was becoming known as a slow-moving organisation, lacking progression.
In 2000, the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Co-operative Retail Society merged to create the world’s largest consumer co-operative. This was the turning point for the Group which saw the start of a period of growth for The Co-operative.
A group-wide rebrand saw all businesses united under the one identity in 2007 which brought the Group to what it is today. The Group’s largest division is food and it operates over 4,500 outlets across the UK. The organisation also runs over 450 travel agencies through The Co-operative Travel. It may surprise some to hear that The Co-op operates the largest funeral directors in the UK, with 800 funeral homes under its significant belt. The pharmacy arm matches funeral-care outlet for outlet. With 800 branches, The Co-op operates the third largest community pharmacy group in the UK. The Co-op manages over 70,000 acres of land, supplying its own food stores with an ever increasing number of products. In fact, the Group sells more Fairtrade products than any other retailer and are the largest farmers in the UK.
Under the umbrella Co-operative Banking Group, the Group provides financial services to 4.5 million customers. The Banking Group includes the Co-operative Bank (including Smile and the former Britannia Building Society) and the Co-operative Insurance. The Co-operative Group also offers national legal services, including Will writing, probate, conveyance, personal injuries and employment law. Furthermore, the Group’s reach extends to a property portfolio, a clothing label and a leading national motor dealership.Read all 141 employee quotes
Many graduates cite the Co-op’s altruistic drive as their motivation for joining its ranks; others are more candid, indicating the ‘great starting salary, impressive benefits and huge opportunities for progression and personal development’. But whatever the catalyst for your application, you will need at least a C in GCSE Maths and English, as well as a minimum 2:2 to make it on to one of the Co-operative’s graduate schemes.
In addition to 2,000 apprenticeships, the Group offers four graduate leadership programmes: Business Management, HR, Retail Ops and Finance. The accredited CIMA Finance programme is the longest of the lot at three years, and covers everything from ‘auditing, tax and financial control, to strategic plans and corporate reports’. The other three programmes last two years: Business Management covers everything ‘from marketing and buying, to human resources and strategic planning’; the HR scheme will provide you with the knowledge and skills to step into a managerial role; and Retail Ops will give you ‘all the management and store leadership experience you need to manage a store of your own’.
The company ‘hires from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of skills’ according to one current projects officer, so graduates ‘from any university or discipline’ are welcome to apply. But while there’s officially no bias, one grad revealed that most graduates ‘come from the University of Manchester and University of Lancaster’, reflecting the fact that the head offices are based in the centre of Manchester.
The recruitment process is ‘rigorous’ with several rounds to go through. The Co-op receives around about ‘3,000 applicants for 20 jobs’, although the number of places is set to increase to 28. Each application begins with an online Situational Judgement Test followed by an application form, which covers work history and includes competency based questions. Make sure you provide plenty of examples to support your argument, because the initial cull is pretty tough: ‘only 5% of applicants’ make it over this hurdle. Online psychometric tests follow, with fairly typical maths and verbal reasoning questions. One responder to our survey asserts that the company’s ‘only looking for you to hit a minimum score’; but whether this is true or not, best aim high just in case! Make it through the online tests and you will be invited to meet with senior managers. This face-to-face interview will run through your ‘career aspirations and background, and a series of competency questions around the business’ behaviours’. Impress in person, and you’ll receive an invite to the final stage – the assessment centre.
The assessment centre comprises another interview, some more tests, a group debate and an individual presentation. The interview will again be held by two managers, although not the same two as before. The format will be the same however, with the focus on competencies and career aspirations. The centre’s tests will cover similar ground to the online set, with the only addition being the added pressure of the environment. For the debate, hopefuls are divided into groups of four or five, with each set charged with agreeing on the best outcome from the individual case studies. After the group exercise, candidates go solo for their presentation. Given approximately 20 pages of information, including financials, each candidate has an hour and a half to put a presentation together, before delivering their findings and recommendations to senior managers. While all these stages may seem intimidating, don’t worry too much as one current graduate says encouragingly, ‘although this sounds like a tough process, it is all done in a friendly way which makes you feel very relaxed’.
Co-op Graduate Recruitment Info
Graduate Recruitment Team
Tel: 0161 827 6166
No. of employees: 110,000
No. of UK employees: 110,000
Annual graduate intake: 28
No. of applications per year: Approx. 7,000
Graduate starting salary: £23,000
Graduate starting salary: £24,000
The graduate programme has a thorough recruitment process made up of an online application, situational judgement tests, interview and an assessment centre day. My advice to candidates would be to prepare thoroughly and this starts with the application form. Use the information on our website and come meet representatives at careers fairs or graduate events.Graduate, ManchesterHelpful?
Commitment to diversity is great, with networks for LGBT colleagues and women.HR, Graduate, ManchesterHelpful?
The graduates run and manage a charity and fund raise for this throughout the year and run events such as wine tasting, bucket shaking and a football tournament. Also there are opportunities to get involved in other community work such as mentoring, etc.HR, Graduate, ManchesterHelpful?
We have management development weeks every 4 months, giving graduates training in different areas of business.Graduate, ManchesterHelpful?