Starbucks’ move to offer staff the opportunity to gain qualifications at work is the latest example of a company recognising the value of its people as brand advocates.

The coffee house chain has overhauled its recruitment and training in the UK by giving its employees the chance to get NVQ qualifications supported by the national Employment Service, and management training and provide funding opportunities for community projects to build their personal development.

The initiative follows moves by McDonald’s, Marks & Spencer and Birdseye which have recognised the need to invest in staff initiatives to build engagement within the business as a way of driving the brand.

By providing staff better opportunities, the theory is that Starbucks will have better trained, more knowledgeable workforce with lower levels of staff turnover and that in turn will give the coffee chain more motivated and engaged brand advocates.

Brian Waring, Starbucks VP of marketing, says: “We hope that this will not only increase the skills of our people but also create a truly motivated, ambitious and values-driven work force.”

As well as providing qualifications to existing staff Starbucks is also changing it recruitment style. The chain will now favour applicants who do community volunteer work because they reflect the coffee chain’s own predilection for building communities.

Waring adds: “We’ve up weighted our commitment in the training and development of our people because as brand ambassadors our partners must truly embrace the values of our company.”

“We know that the longer we keep and develop our baristas, and the more they embrace our values the better our coffee and our service “

Speaking at Marketing Week’s The Annual conference last week, Waring also talked about how Starbuck’s uses social media platforms such as Facebook to drive engagement with its staff as well as opening up the brand to consumers.

McDonald’s and Whitbread which owns Costa Coffee, Beefeater and Premier Inn have all launched schemes to allow their staff to gain nationally recognised qualifications at work.

McDonald’s even ran an advertising campaign using the slogan “Not bad for a McJob” after launching its NVQ programme to take on and change the negative perception of working at the fast food chain.

Marks & Spencer uses its Plan A strategy as the focal point for engaging its staff with the company’s values.

Adam Elman head of Plan A delivery says getting staff engaged with Plan A is integral to the business and encourages its employees to make suggestions and spot new opportunities because they are the ones interacting with consumers and the business on the ground.

“We have 75,000 staff in our stores engaging with our customers day in and day out. If they understand and care about Plan A they do a better job in explaining it to our customers and making it happen.”

“It’s as much as a pull form the business as a push. If they’re engaged, they take what we’re doing as a business and make it reality in their own lives.”

Both Starbucks and M&S say that by making sure they take on the right people that hold the brand values, to push the company forward in the right direction and make the core brand values a reality on the ground.

Through training and rewards built around the values of our business our partners become the strongest advocates we can have for our brand.”

Elman says that Plan A is often cited as a motivation for wanting to join the firm in the first place and by taking on people that believe in the same things the company believes in, they will be better advocates for the brand.

Birds Eye unveiled its sustainability strategy Forever Food earlier this year and highlighted the important role that engaging its own people had to pushing its sustainability agenda to consumers.

Birds Eye CEO Martin Glenn said when the initiative was launched: “Birdseye has designed the Forever Food journey to educate its staff and consumers about the difference they can make.”

“By engaging our people, industry colleagues suppliers and consumers we aim to being them on a journey with us to find solutions to responsibly sourced food.”

Engagement is the Holy Grail of a brand’s relationship with consumers, but shifts like these demonstrate that brands are valuing the frontline role staff have in obtaining that and the importance of engaging staff to achieve it.