Morrisons was under the spotlight this week for its substantial use of apprentices (Panorama: The Great Apprentice Scandal, 8.30pm, BBC1, 2 April) - make that very substantial.
“We’ve discovered that 52,000 people were on apprenticeships last year,” declared reporter Shelley Jofre damningly. “That’s nearly 40% of the workforce - and one in 10 of the apprenticeships across England. With the taxpayer’s help it seems we’re becoming a nation of shopkeepers’ apprentices.”
Wow, powerful… er not. It’d take more than a cheap reworking of Napoleon’s famous indictment to imbue this punchline with meaning, but group HR director Norman Pickavance mounted a stout defence anyway confirming the 40% figure and explaining why it might be a good thing.
Jofre’s response? To wheel out Charlie Mullins, yes, THE Charlie Mullins, who accused the supermarkets of devaluing apprenticeships. I’d never heard of the “plumbing entrepreneur”, but my bigger problem was that Jofre was comparing Morrisons with a business that employs just 200 people - and she pursued this line of argument at the expense of the real story: the private company that accredits Morrisons’ apprenticeships, namely Elmfield Training.
Not only did it make £12m profit in 2010, its CEO paid himself a dividend of nearly £3m - for training rated only satisfactory. There was clearly a case to answer here and on the part of the sub-contractors that much of the programme rightly focused on.
But that wouldn’t have given Jofre a big name like Morrisons, would it?