Creating a coaching culture with apprenticeships and Sodexo

An Insight from Sodexo

Sodexo and creating a coaching culture with apprenticeships

How do you unlock the best bits of your performance and attributes, and find the motivation within yourself to develop the areas that require improvement? HR and learning professionals, as well as business leaders, point towards the practice of coaching as an enabler to personal and organisational growth.

Coaching is respected as an accredited skill, and Sodexo UK & Ireland has been working since 2014 to implement a development service that teaches leaders to become coaches, and for colleagues to embark upon relationships that benefit both their careers, and the future of their business area.

Throughout the last seven years, we have worked towards embedding a coaching culture, which saw 53 senior colleagues achieving a professional qualification in the subject. With positive feedback from both individuals and business units, demand for coaching support soared, and so too did the need for more trained coaches.

At the beginning of 2020, together with external partners at The OCM Group, Sodexo has evolved its coaching qualification, converting it into a level five apprenticeship, taught at degree standard. This not only enabled new online learning for delegates, but also opened the qualification to a wider intake from across the business.

Throughout National Apprenticeship Week (8 February – 14 February 2021), we’ve highlighted the breadth of opportunities available through Sodexo apprenticeships. We’ve talked about apprenticeships being available for colleagues at all levels of the organisation. And to prove the point, we spoke to Christine Williams, HR director for Service Operations, who is undertaking the new Professional Coach qualification.

Christine, what attracted you to the coaching apprenticeship?

“It was the flexibility to fit my learning around my work and personal commitments through remote learning in a subject which strengthens my HR career path.

“For me personally, I’m developing higher level skills which are tailored to my field of work in HR, through a professional qualification. For Sodexo, this connects to our strategic people priority of creating a coaching culture for our teams.”

You’re three months in, what is your experience so far?

“The apprenticeship is providing me with excellent on the job learning, with lots of opportunities to practice new skills, act on my new knowledge and show different behaviours straight away in my day job”.

What would you say to someone thinking about taking on the same opportunity, or another apprenticeship?

“Don’t ponder on it - go for it!  You become part of a peer network of support and have plenty of supervision to keep you on track. The apprenticeship follows a clear pathway of activities so you’re continuously developing as you complete the modules.

“I wished I’d done it sooner.”

Shamim Stokes, Head of Learning and Development, has led Sodexo’s approach to coaching since 2014, and has seen how the apprenticeship has benefited both the colleagues taking part, and those receiving coaching: “In the last six years, over 300 people in our region have received coaching, with 85% feeling direct organisational benefits.

The biggest difference in this new apprenticeship programme is the degree-level teaching; it is very comprehensive, but also includes more support for learners. While this new apprenticeship programme is a pilot, we’re seeing positive initial feedback and results. We are looking to launch our next cohort in April 2021. We will apply any lessons learned and will have one of our new apprentice coaches talking to the new cohort about their experience, with tips to get the best out of the learning.”


The original coaching proposal back in 2014 was to develop an internal coaching resource working in partnership with the OCM, a credible Coaching organisation.  The aim was to embed a ‘coaching culture’ within the organisation and to drive high performance to help in our achievement to Investors in People gold.

Since that time 4 cohorts of internal coaches have been trained to the Certificate Level 3 in Coaching.  Each cohort was between 10 and 15 delegates.  As a result of global moves, resignations and increased role demands we now have 33 trained coached out of the 53 originally trained.

To support talent, transition in roles, experienced professions we required a larger pool of coaches.

Converting to the coaching qualification

The Professional Coach Level 5 qualification was introduced in 2020 and we had already agreed with OCM that we would be the first Organisation to pilot the process and qualification with them.  At Sodexo we had been investing around £20,000 each year into our Coaching programmes so with the Introduction of the new Coaching qualification it made sense for us to compare the 2 programmes and to utilise the Apprenticeship levy.  The new programme is 14 months long in comparison to the previous one that was between 9 – 12 months. The biggest difference is the level being degree level it is very comprehensive and includes an additional 5 coachees being coached, an additional number of workshops and support from an internal Sodexo mentor as well as a Coach/Mentor/Supervisor from the OCM.

Benefits to Sodexo

The benefits to Sodexo are the introduction of a coaching culture, our teams feeling supported and valued.  Coaches have said things like ‘my coach really did inspire me’, ‘my coach is amazing and made a significant impact around my leadership’ and ‘internal coaching is a very good idea to motivate individuals like me’.

Working with our partner OCM

The working relationship is very important particularly as this is a pilot.  The OCM’s values are aligned with Sodexo so this makes the relationship very strong.  We are both open to giving and receiving feedback and tweaking the process as we go to ensure that our delegates get the best learning opportunity.  We have a weekly call to check on progress and to ensure that everything is where it should be.

Everything with our first pilot cohort is going well and we are looking to launch our next cohort in April 2021.  We will apply any lessons learned and will have one of our new Apprentice coaches talking to the new cohort about their experience and tips to get the best out of the learning.