Is this Australia's Best Graduate Program?
Even after three decades at the helm of Vittoria Food & Beverage, Les Schirato is still chuffed by industry feedback about his youngest staff members. "CEOs, hotel managers and café; owners frequently tell me how remarkable our graduate employees are," says Schirato. "One industry veteran told me recently, 'Your graduates are a reflection of you and your company, and they are wonderful ambassadors." The praise is especially vindicating for Schirato who devotes ample time to instructing would-be managers and ensuring their journey is a meaningful one. "We're different in the way we recruit, we're different in the way we spend so much time on training, but I'm proud of it," he adds.
As a business with a 70-year legacy and a portfolio of market-leading brands, Vittoria is as attuned to the past as to the future. In order to ensure the company's continued prosperity, it has customised a multifaceted Graduate Program to foster the next generation of leaders. Each year, the company selects approximately 10 university graduates to work at its Sydney offices. The coveted program, which spans 16 months, is designed to educate, stimulate and empower participants. By the end of it, high-achieving graduates are groomed for success, confident in the knowledge that they are shaping the business as well as their own careers. In its 15-year history, the program has produced many frontline employees, including Managing Director, Rolando Schirato.
Unlike conventional graduate programs, the Vittoria edition is designed to create well-rounded individuals by exposing them to multiple career paths, significant projects and frequent job rotations. "It kicks off with a thorough four-week induction, which is an excellent way to get a handle on the business," says Anthony Kaldelis, 25, a commerce graduate from Western Sydney University, who joined the company last year. "One of the extraordinary things about working at Vittoria is that you're not restricted in your outlook," adds Gianmarco Pignetti, 24, another recent commerce graduate from WSU. "You see and experience everything, from sales to marketing, key accounts to barista training and technology. None of the other programs I applied for captivated me like this one."
The program is amplified with rigorous rounds of coaching and training, as well as participation in high-profile activations, including Australian Fashion Week, and philanthropic endeavours such as The Tour de Cure. Another major difference from standard programs is the extensive interaction graduates have with senior management. "From my experience in internships they are often low on the totem pole, and you don't see how your work is contributing to a company," says Erin Ford, 23, a Sydney University alumna who recently completed the program. "Here, you are working with general managers and, even more unusually, with the MD and CEO." After several rotations in various internal departments, Ford is now focused on sales. "Your progress is self-driven - throughout the process it was about what interested me."
"Working at Vittoria is completely unique," says Simon Creswick, 34, one of the program's earliest success stories, now engaged in purchasing. "It's small enough that we can get across all these different facets of our business, and big enough to be a major player going up against multinationals and winning." At Vittoria, there are few things that this Sydney University alum hasn't done. One of his earliest jobs was preparing coffees at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He has travelled to Italy, Germany and the United States for trade fairs and supplier meetings. He made Al Pacino coffee for a campaign shoot. "In our can-do culture, you're limited only by yourself," he says. Along the way, Creswick has chalked up numerous academic credentials supported by the company.
That Vittoria is a family-owned entity also informs the program. Graduates are schooled in the importance of a work-life balance, while the corporate culture is unfailingly nurturing and real-time feedback is always available. Vittoria's is likely the only graduate program in Australia in which employees are tutored in the art of preparing a world-class espresso. "We host motivational retreats where we get to know the person, graduates share stories about their lives and that helps build strong teams," says Schirato. "The support structure here really stands out for me," says Kaldelis, who recently attended a three-day seminar in the Blue Mountains. "You're not just another number. The program is far more personalised, and a true reflection of what you want to do."
Graduates both current and former all talk about the immense job satisfaction that working at Vittoria has afforded them. " I've done so much more here than I would have in a regular corporate position," says Ford. "Working here has been like winning a jackpot." Adds Creswick, "You get to the point that you don't want to tell your friends how much you love your job - it's almost embarrassing." For Schirato, seeing how fulfilled the graduates are is the ultimate measure of the program's value. "Our graduates are so enthusiastic, they know so much about the business, that they inspire me," he says. "What we're really trying to do here is creates leaders, and my experience of young people is that we have a great future."