Ageing coops: bridging the skills gap with Pret A Manger

Posted by Nicolas Mounard on 28 July 2014

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Cenfrocafe in northern Peru has 2,567 members, but only 7% are young farmers. To meet the demand for qualified workers and close the generational skills gap, Twin forged a value chain partnership with Cenfrocafe and Pret A Manger to offer an alternative educational route for young farmers. The aim was to support local job creation, add value at origin through skills-building and enterprise development, and ensure the future sustainability of the coffee sector and rural communities in the San Ignacio region.

The partnership joined forces with local vocational colleges and a university to develop a new educational programme that combines business and agricultural theory with practical training. At the end of the course, students not only gain a recognised qualification, they also have the opportunity to compete for seed funding from Pret, matched by Cenfrocafe, to develop their business ideas. The course kicks off with a technical apprenticeship and is followed by a second semester on business planning and entrepreneurial skills.

Trip to Cenfrocafe with Pret

In July, we accompanied  Pret to meet with the 85 young farmers (aged 16-34) enrolled on the course as they came to the end of their first semester. The lively students talked to us about their lessons, which are taught both in lecture halls and on local farms by Cenfrocafe staff to foster intergenerational learning and exchange.

The first theme ‘Cooperative Management’ introduces the cooperative model, as well as covering computer skills and business and financial management. The theme was chosen to strengthen the cooperative model in the region and encourage young producers to join Cenfrocafe – what they call ‘relevo generacional’ or generational relay.

The second theme ‘Sustainable Practices and Adding Value’ ranges from organic farming and pests and diseases to costs analyses and machinery maintenance. Following the summer harvest, the students also had the chance to visit a dry mill and port to gain some firsthand experience of coffee processing and exporting.

The final theme ‘Coffee Quality’ takes students through physical analysis, roasting, grinding and coffee cupping. There is even an introduction to Barista training. The students, who come from across Cenfrocafe’s 10 networks and are a quarter female, valued good agricultural practices, coffee quality and  financial tools most highly in a feedback survey at the end of first semester.

Entrepreneurship and inclusive business

The second semester will focus on entrepreneurship and inclusive business and will cover sales and marketing, logistics, import/export and international trade. Students will also learn how to develop, write and evaluate a fully-costed business plan. At the end of the course, five business grants will be awarded for the most promising proposals, with support, mentoring and shadowing provided by Cenfrocafe during the first phase of business development.

What struck me as we toured the region was the interest and enthusiasm exhibited by all the students and their strong sense of course ownership and loyalty to the cooperative. At Cenfrocafe, there was a new energy amongst staff and a shared vision for the future. And for Pret? They’ve got to know their suppliers more personally, they’re thinking long-term and they’re ambitious about the scale of impact they want to achieve. Starting in Peru, where the majority of their coffee is sourced, Pret then plan to work through all of their origin countries.

The project’s strength lies in the fact that it pools the talents, expertise and resources from along the value chain and links in to the local community and educational institutions. This makes the course highly dynamic and ensures that the content remains fit for purpose. The next step will be to develop more specialised courses to deepen the level of expertise across the coffee sector.

John Isherwood, Pret’s Head of Sustainability, said “Investing in the future of our suppliers is investing in our own future. It’s not about giving back; it’s about nurturing the talents within our extended business so that we can continue to offer the premium-quality coffee expected by our customers.”