Hard-working pupils from throughout the region have been working with intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre to learn from the best about working in the retail and hospitality sectors.
The Retail Gold ‘Class of 2017’ celebrated their success with a ceremony at The Mansion House, Newcastle, attended by graduates, teachers, and retailers. They were delighted to welcome the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor Hazel Stephenson, the Mayor of Gateshead and Councillor Pauline Dillon. Newcastle based international theatrical designer Paul Shriek also spoke at the event about his foray into retail and how the experience shaped his working career.
Retail Gold is an extended schools’ work experience programme, delivered by north east based education consultancy Employers in Education, in association with shopping giant intu, owners of intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre.
Since 2005, world class Retail Gold has placed more than 460 students with 20 different retailers at both intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre, and they learn what work is really like, but do so in an environment that is supportive and professional. The programme forms part of students’ BTEC studies for Retail, Business and Work skills, and enables young people to develop key employability skills, raise self-confidence and gain a thorough insight into all aspects of working in retail.
During the academic year 2016/17, students from Newcastle, Gosforth Academy and  Excelsior Academy, Thorp Academy in Ryton and Kingsmeadow Community School in Dunston have been attending weekly work placements at a wide variety of stores at intu Eldon Square and intu Metrocentre, including Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, and WH Smith. 
Tracy Allison, owner, Employers in Education, said:
“It’s gratifying to have seen Retail Gold grow so successfully during the last 12 years, providing excellent support for our young people, both in their studies and in developing essential employability skills for their future careers. During a visit to Excelsior College by Department of Education Careers and Policy officials on 29 November 2016, Retail Gold, which is delivered with reference to the new Gatsby benchmarks in Good Career Guidance,*  was recognized as an excellent example of practice and impact in Careers Education.
“Good career guidance helps inspire students towards further study and enables them to make informed decisions whenever choices are open to them. It helps them to understand enough about the world of work to know what skills they need to succeed. It is important for social mobility because it helps open students’ eyes to careers they may not have considered. Ofsted now includes career guidance specifically within the inspection framework.
“The support of intu and businesses within their two North East shopping centres has enabled Retail Gold to grow into a work experience programme that adds real value and has become an integral part of the offer schools make to their students.”
Phil Steele, general manager of intu Eldon Square commented:
“Retail Gold would never succeed without the long-term support of intu retailers who deliver first class guidance and training to the young people on the programme. In the last 12 years retailers have delivered almost 50,000 hours of on-site training. Many participants in the Retail Gold programme are offered part-time employment following their placements, and some go on to a full-time career in the retail sector.”
Gavin Prior, general manager of intu Metrocentre, added:
“The development of both the Qube dining quarter at intu Metrocentre, as well as Grey’s Quarter at intu Eldon Square has opened up a myriad of new opportunities within the hospitality sector for placements in both the schools and pre-employment strands of Retail Gold. MOD Pizza has employed people through our pre-employment programme in association with Gateshead College and JobCentre Plus, as well as offering two Excelsior students on the schools’ programme paid part-time employment.”
MOD Pizza manager Katie Miller said:
“Working with intu on both Retail Gold strands has been really useful to our business. We try to keep everything the same as it would be as if they were employed by ourselves as this creates a real world working environment and real world challenges which they would face on a day to day basis in the hospitality industry.
“The students who attend MOD are trained no differently to how we would train our own staff, we also offer our support/advice and a point in the right direction if needed.
“We encourage each member of our team to be themselves and we believe this is so important as we hired them for the people they are not what we want them to be, one of our values  is ‘individuality with responsibility’ –  basically be yourself but be responsible and respectful about it.
“So far the students we have worked with have been a pleasure to have on shift, with a great work ethic, good team players who are always on the look-out for the next job to do. The improvement in their self-confidence and motivation is outstanding, and a real boost to our business.”
Alexander Nicoll, corporate responsibility director at intu, added:
“As a long-term investor and responsible business intu is thrilled that an initiative we have supported and delivered for the past 11 years, fits so well with the description of ‘good careers guidance’ from the latest, in depth, research undertaken for the UK Government.
The recognition by Department for Education officials, describing Retail Gold as an “excellent example of practice and impact in Careers Education,” helps to explain why our Retail Gold partnership between intu, local schools, our retailers and restaurants, has become such an established and respected programme, helping young people gain skills and access rewarding job opportunities”.
Adam Green Leader of Teaching and Learning in Business and Enterprise, Gosforth Academy, commented:
“Retail Gold is a wonderful initiative.  Supported by intu, the programme has, over the twelve years it has been running, enabled close to 170 sixth form students from Gosforth Academy to benefit from a real-life work experience as part of their study programme – a regular placement in a high quality local retail environment. 
“Every year we see the nervous, shy, inexperienced students who arrive in September, grow into confident and knowledgeable young adults, thanks in no small part to the help and support of retailers such as John Lewis and Debenhams. For Gosforth Academy, Retail Gold has become an integral part of our successful one-year ‘Access for A Level’ programme. It ensures that we can offer students on the course opportunities to develop fully as individuals, learning what it really means to be a worker, a learner and a helper; enabling them to make informed choices about the next stage in their life, whether that be further study, training or work. It has been fantastic to see our students go on to be successful knowing that their time on the Retail Gold Programme has helped them to be so.  I still see and speak to some of our former Retail Gold students and their time on the programme is always a topic of conversation.”