Prioritising your People with Jenny Cook, Chief People Officer at NRG


Jenny, you joined NRG in 2021. One of your first projects was to create an apprenticeship framework for level 3 HGV Technicians. Can you tell us how you went about this?

I saw the opportunity to add value through a proactive approach to people management. It was also an opportunity to support the business growth plan by investing in younger talent and equipping people with the skills required to build a successful career – something I’m passionate about. With this, I brought together a project team, including several of our current apprentice managers, to create something exciting and innovative.

We researched training providers and found S&B Automotive Academy, who already partnered with some of our competitors and several of our customers. We explained to the S&B team that we wanted to create something unique and progressive in what had become a sleepy industry. We discussed if they would be interested in helping design the framework and were delighted when they agreed. Together we developed a clear framework for our apprentices and a career path for them, which was very different from the old-style apprenticeship.

In March 2022, we agreed to increase our headcount. We finally launched our recruitment campaign in April 2022, with 12 new opportunities to join our apprenticeships nationwide.
From the outset, the team and I were determined to be a serious gameplayer in the field, and the project team’s involvement, experience, and knowledge helped make the framework successful.

In April 2022, you started the recruitment phase of your ‘apprenticeship framework’, with nine apprentices joining NRG last September. How are the apprentices doing, and what are your plans to continue recruiting more for other business areas?

Our apprentices are doing exceptionally well and enjoying the start of their careers at NRG. We have now built a strong working partnership with S&B Automotive Academy, and our communication between both parties is continuous. NRG managers attend the Academy during the apprenticeship period, and the S&B team are welcomed at all our offices nationwide. We have decided not to bring in a Cohort for September 2023 to ensure our current framework is embedded fully and meets the high standards we set. We are planning to start the process again with our next cohort of HGV technician apprenticeships to begin in September 2024.

Currently, we are recruiting several administration apprentices across the country. Their training will also be done via the S&B Academy; however, the programme will be delivered virtually this time. We also have a People Administrator doing her apprenticeship after transferring from another internal role.

Your next project is to develop a ‘talent development framework’. Please explain how you plan to go about this.

We are about to start on our talent development framework, where apprenticeships will heavily feature. The talent development strategy will offer opportunities in several business areas, and we will consider recruiting an apprentice for all available roles.
Using the same process as for the apprenticeship framework project, I plan to bring together a highly skilled group and, with their help, create an innovative solution that works for all. Someone from each department will be involved in this project. It’s a big one with much to cover.

How has the investment from Palatine supported your plans for apprenticeships at NRG?

The investment from Palatine has been a game changer. In particular, it has been invaluable in allowing us to expand our headcount. It has enabled us to develop our existing team organically to move into new and often more senior roles.
The investment has also allowed us to continue with our successful apprenticeship framework. For example, HGV Technician apprentices aren’t classed as productive, as they don’t generate income till later in their journey, so an investment into this area is pretty significant.

What has been the most challenging and enjoyable part of your career to date?

Throughout my career, I have always been passionate about well-being and talent development. The most enjoyable part of my career to date has been achieving my results through transformation, particularly when I see a reduction in attrition. It also gives me great pleasure to see my colleagues succeed and providing them with the platform to grow and shine. Another area I am particularly proud of is cultivating a culture where we can openly discuss personal issues, especially mental health.

To advance my career, I have felt it necessary to move into several roles in various companies. This means I have had to adapt to change regularly and have been the “new girl” several times. However, this has also allowed me to use my experience and new perspectives to transform the employee journey from within. I have noticed that Imposter syndrome has also been present occasionally during my career; however, I close the door on this and embrace the opportunity.