Corporate learning has shifted from the traditional and static brick-and-mortar academy model, reflected in a new generation of commercially available learning platforms: “There’s a new breed of platforms focused in this area, and I call them Capability Academy systems,” explains Josh Bersin. Moreover, many organizations are now upgrading their corporate academy to reflect the changing expectations of workers.
Employees now expect learning-centric programs that offer a diverse range of content. Organizations such as Nestlé are evolving their academies to create an on-demand, skills-based, or strengths-based learning experience. The UK division of the world’s largest food and beverage company formed The Nestlé Academy in 2011. In the past twelve years, the Academy has continually evolved to better achieve its core objective: Building the skills and strengths of its people for the future.
The Nestlé Academy: A future-focused talent solution
Each year in October, Nestlé opens applications to hire graduates, apprentices, and interns at sites in the UK and Ireland across job roles in product development, marketing, and more. Nestlé enrolls these hires in the Academy to help each employee gain momentum with upskilling. But each stream of talent also offers a long-term solution to skills-based hiring. Bate describes how the Academy meets business needs
“I speak to each department across the organization to understand what is happening in their area from a skills perspective. What challenges are you having in terms of developing, retaining, or recruiting a skill? Based on our business direction, what skills might you need in the future? And how can the Academy help you build those skills?
“The Academy is one stream in our overall talent strategy which looks to build the skills and capabilities that we require for our business now and for the future.”
From Bate’s conversations with peers across the business, the Academy forms demand signals that translate to job requisitions. Historically, Bate admits, this has been through bringing in new talent. “But we’re now trying to build and bring upskilling into the conversation,” she explains.
An academy built on strengths-based hiring
Whether candidates are part of the Graduate Scheme, Apprenticeship, or Internship and Placement tracks, they follow the same hiring process. Further to conversations with hiring managers about job-specific skills, Bate and her team have also conducted organization-wide research to understand the attributes and skills applicants would need to thrive in the Nestlé business. Accordingly, the team developed a strengths-based assessment that scores candidates on resilience, adaptability, drive, learning agility, collaboration, accountability, and integrity. “We assess these skills in three stages during an online assessment, and then in an assessment center. But it’s all strengths-based,” Bate adds.
“We don’t use competency-based recruitment in this case because the predominant focus of our Academy is early careers. From an inclusivity perspective, we want people to bring in their natural strengths.”
Impact on diversity and inclusion
The Academy has served as a driving force for the DE&I agenda at Nestlé. “We’ve seen real success in attracting diverse talent to apply to our schemes and bringing them into the organization,” Bate notes. The statistics from the most recent cohort to complete the program, in 2021-2022 reflect this assessment. There has been a three-fold increase in candidates from an ethnically diverse background and a doubling of offers to candidates from a low social mobility background.
The Nestlé Academy hires roughly 30 candidates per year into its graduate program. Support for each graduate begins, explains Bate, from the offer stage. “They would get feedback in terms of their assessment center. Where we saw strengths and opportunity areas.”
Each division also has a graduate champion. The graduate champion contacts the graduates to set up a support network from the point of offer to when they join. Moreover, Nestlé sets up a Facebook group to interact with graduates, conducts monthly calls, and runs a welcome day before they join the business. Upon starting their role, graduates go through an induction period with a mixture of face-to-face and virtual sessions.
Beyond these initial touchpoints, Nestlé has created a structured development program that lasts two years. It puts graduates through six modules across this period as part of a cohort that becomes a support network. “Interestingly, the first module we put them through is all about leading themselves,” notes Bate. “It’s about helping them understand who they are, both at home and in their role at work, and what they want from a career.” This initial module forms a learning contract that guides them through their graduate program and beyond.
Bate also notes the third module that graduates experience, which focuses on working with others. “We use a profiling tool to understand how they interact with others and what their natural preferences are. It covers emotional intelligence, coaching, and influencing. We also get them involved in community activity and volunteering.”
Nestlé augments this structured support with individualized and relevant functional development based on the individual’s role, alongside their learning contract.
Since it formed the Academy in 2011, Nestlé has supported 602 apprenticeships in the UK. It hires apprentices into roles including in engineering and manufacturing. In recent years, it has placed an increased focus on the importance of hiring and upskilling apprentices. Identical to the graduate program, the Academy aims to help each apprentice understand their current strength and skillset, and what they need to learn whilst on the program. Bate discusses the support network around each apprentice:
“They work alongside people in their function, including the champion, to develop their knowledge, skills, and behaviors. They also have a buddy. There’s a huge amount of training on offer from technical skills to soft skills, as well as third-party training including on mental health.
“We want to make sure our Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) program is brought to life. We want to give them a clear picture of the reality of business. If it’s a module that talks about sustainability, we’ll use an expert from our business to talk about the sustainability story. We’re trying to avoid it becoming purely theoretical.”
Impact on The Nestlé Academy
The apprenticeship scheme has yielded some outstanding results. One of the first CMDA-qualified apprentices has now been in the business for nine years. “She emphasizes the career acceleration, speed of progression, and the immediate level of responsibility,” Bate shares.
In the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA) program, apprentices rotate across different functions including supply chain, sales, and marketing, thereby increasing their opportunity for internal mobility. Bate also shares the experience of someone who has taken part in an upskill apprenticeship within learning and development.
“She’s truly developed the expertise within her current role. It’s given her more confidence and the ability to challenge her peers more effectively. She’s an expert in the field she is in. But she’s also able to share that learning across the team, so the benefits aren’t just for the individual.”
The increased focus on apprenticeship schemes has enhanced the accessibility of a viable career path for applicants of all backgrounds. By focusing on removing as many barriers to entry as possible, Nestlé has created a structured program that helps not only achieve aims for diversity but fosters inclusion through a supported and long-term career path.
Internships and T-Level placements
Each Summer, Nestlé runs an internship scheme runs for ten weeks. It also runs year-long placements as part of degree programs. If a candidate is successful in the internship or placement, Nestlé aims to enroll them into the graduate program for the following year. “They would secure a great opportunity, and we know we’re hiring someone with an experience and understanding of Nestlé,” explains Bate. The interns and placement participants benefit from the same onboarding program and development material as the graduates and apprentices.
T-Level placements are a part of T-Level training courses that require participants to complete a minimum of 45 days working in industry. Targeted at 16-19-year-olds, they represent another opportunity to access skills for the organization.
“T-Level training courses are a low-risk way to support someone. Although we’re just dipping our toe in the water, in the future, we hope to use T-Level placements as a possible pipeline for apprenticeship programs.
“They give a meaningful experience for someone who delivers something back to the business. Participants have been very positive about the experience and impact they had, and how supportive their line manager was.”
The future of Nestlé’s corporate Academy
Despite over twelve years of outstanding progress, Bate is keen to ensure continuous improvement to the Nestlé Academy.
“Firstly, and most importantly, we must make sure we anchor what we do back to business needs. We have to demonstrate the impact it is having. Are we delivering what we set out to do?
“Secondly, we want to continue to have DE&I at the heart of everything we do. Over the past three to four years, we’ve tried to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of the Academy. We’ll continue to build that work. It’s not just about retention or promotions, it’s about the diversity of perspective, opinion, and thinking that people bring.”
By creating an accessible, on-demand, and inclusive corporate Academy, Nestlé is building an institution that is adapting to the needs of the modern workforce. It is proof that investing in a long-term solution to talent management is the future of corporate talent academies and employee development.
Learn more about the training and education schemes used by Nestlé