The people in our business are absolutely fundamental to its success and the Group continues to invest in training and development to equip our teams with the knowledge and skills they need to provide the best possible service to our customers and to progress their own personal development.
We employ over 5,500 people across the UK, Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain. We believe that our ability to deliver fantastic products and service to our customers comes from the passion and commitment shown by all our people across all parts of our Group. We are proud of the work we do to develop and strengthen our teams.
We began our modern apprenticeship programme back in 2014 with a focus on recruiting and developing young people. We are very proud of our award-winning programme which supports participants to achieve formal qualifications in their chosen field, complete the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award and gain valuable work experience. To date, 34 young people have successfully completed the programme and now hold permanent positions in the Group in a variety of areas including service upholstery, manufacturing, retail and administration.
DFS participates actively in the national development of apprenticeship standards in manufacturing and retail for our industry. In February 2018 we were pleased to be accepted on to the register of approved training providers which means we are able to deliver Level 2 apprenticeship programmes ourselves utilising the Apprenticeship Levy fund. In addition, we actively promote the benefits of further learning and development for all our employees, at whatever stage of their career. As a result a number of existing employees are now pursuing advanced training at Level 3 and above and we aim to further expand this in the year ahead.
We first launched Workplace by Facebook as an internal communication and engagement tool in 2017, and currently more than 2,300 of our colleagues use it on a daily basis to connect teams and support business efficiencies. Our supply chain teams used Workplace to host their #Drivewise campaign to promote safe and efficient driving, posting regular updates and helpful advice. Our service manager teams have also embraced the tool, using it to host groups for different regions/areas and sharing best practice, while retail colleagues use it to facilitate queries and share successes. In addition to specific business area groups, company-wide groups generate positive engagement more broadly with activities such as the #HealthySelfie campaign in the ‘Living Well’ Workplace group which focused on colleague health and wellbeing.
We were delighted to receive recognition for the energy and enthusiasm our colleagues have shown in developing their use of the tool when we won ‘Most impressive business results’ at the Workplace awards.
DFS firmly believes in the benefits of a diverse workforce. The gender analysis of employee numbers is reported to the operating board on a monthly basis and monitored against targets for sales and management teams. DFS has established a Diversity Steering Group to develop and implement new and ongoing initiatives to further improve our gender balance, including specific diversity objectives for all senior managers. The gender balance of employees at July 2018 is shown opposite:
Although the proportion of female employees increased in each of the existing brands compared to 2017, the Group figures above also reflect the influence of the acquisition of Sofology. This has a particular impact on the senior manager category given the smaller number of individuals.
DFS aims to reward our employees fairly. In addition to competitive salaries all employees are able to influence their earnings through reward schemes linked to performance. We also offer a Sharesave scheme to all UK and Republic of Ireland employees to give them the opportunity to share in the longer term success of the Group. During the year the Group published details of its Gender Pay Gap Reporting, further details of which can be found in the Remuneration Report on page 80.
In addition to open communication via Workplace, employee views are sought an active programme of engagement surveys, the results of which are communicated back to staff. Having achieved 26th place in the Sunday Times Top Big Companies List last year, we were very pleased to have made further improvement this year, reaching 23rd place. We also continue to receive external recognition for excellence in employee conditions by the retention of our Top Employer certification from the Top Employers Institute.
The health and well-being of our employees, customers and partners is extremely important to DFS. We are committed to promoting a positive health and safety culture throughout the Group, and have continued to invest in training and in improving our processes and practices to ensure that we operate safe and secure workplaces no matter where they are.
All employees complete online training modules to ensure awareness of DFS ‘house rules’ for health and safety and these are reinforced with monthly safety messages to refresh and remind on particular subjects. More detailed, rolespecific training is provided to store, production and supply chain managers. Other areas of the business receive focused training according to need.
Our dedicated health and safety team have made further enhancements to training and internal audit programmes to consolidate the significant progress made in this area over the last few years. Although we are pleased with the advances that we have made, we recognise that continuous monitoring and development is essential to sustain this. The Chief People Officer chairs monthly health and safety governance meetings with operational directors to review incidents and activities in detail and share experience and best practice. Full reports are provided to each Operating Board and Reputational Risk Committee meeting.
We were delighted to receive a Bronze Award from RoSPA during the year in recognition of our efforts and progress to date. DFS aims to support the health and welfare of our employees and their families through a variety of initiatives including life and critical illness cover, and an employee assistance service. It is the policy of the Group to support the employment of disabled people, wherever possible, both in recruitment and by retention of employees who become disabled whilst in the employment of the Group as well as generally through training and career development.
During the year we have also increased our focus on the well-being of our people, with monthly ‘Living Well’ messages and activities to provide education and support on a wide range of topics including exercise, nutrition, stress management and mental health.