The grocery chain cares about training, said joint managing director David Quarmby, as he described the results of the company's recruitment drive for underachievers, writes Lucy Hodges.
At a conference on the subject organised by Business in the Community he stressed the need to recruit and help people who would count themselves failures at school.
The company employs 250 16 and 17-year-olds through its retail trainee scheme. They study for and usually achieve a national vocational qualification level 2 in bakery, retailing or office administration. They get 15 days off-the-job education each year to back-up in-store training and coaching.
Young people with basic literacy and numeracy problems are given extra tuition under the scheme which was launched as part of the Government's modern apprenticeship initiative. Those students who reach NVQ level 3 are destined for the trainee manager programme, Mr Quarmby said.
"We are highly supportive of the NVQ initiative," said Mr Quarmby. "We can see for ourselves how a competence-based approach transforms under achievers into achievers by offering them a route to development that is better suited to their learning style."
Higher-flyers will have the chance of a retail marketing degree from the Manchester Metropolitan University through a part-time programme which has already had some success. "It's not the easiest way to get a degree, studying after a full day's work and over five years," said Mr Quarmby.
"But we have our first 30 graduates completing the course this year and a further 200 students keen to follow in their footsteps."
The grocery chain has also set up a mentoring programme with East London University in which young black managers mentor a number of black students in the second year of their degrees.
According to Mr Quarmby, it develops the confidence of students and gives them the chance to work with blacks who have achieved success.