Recruiting for Retail Careers

Mar 18, 2010
Bernice Hurst

Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

would be easy to churn out relevant clichés — you have to speculate to
accumulate, should invest in people, put your money where your mouth is
— to select just a few. But where education, experience and skills are
concerned, retailers are recognizing a need for vocational and academic
qualifications to co-exist and support one another.

of the UK’s biggest grocers, Sainsbury’s and Asda, have recently announced
new "landmark schemes to train apprentices and sell the food retail industry
as a career choice," according to London’s The Times. The
Sainsbury’s initiative includes opening Britain’s first bakery college,
intended to accelerate and standardize the training for its 412 in-store

his announcement, Sainsbury’s Chief Executive, Justin King, told the The
that he doesn’t think government gives enough attention
to the food industry’s training needs. "There’s been a view," he said,
"and it’s almost our fault for allowing it to exist. that food manufacturing
and food science jobs are inferior to heavy industry and engineering. Food
manufacturing is a massive contributor to wealth."

approach is to "offer 15,000 work experience places to 14- to 16-year-olds
and a further 15,000 apprenticeships to existing staff."

whose executives have repeatedly bemoaned poor standards of education and
attitude problems amongst young people, uses its recruitment website to
explain that "as part of Every Little Helps, our commitment to our people
is that we will give them the opportunity to get on so that they are able
to get the training they need to do their job and to develop their careers
at Tesco."

retailers need to be cautious, however, is in designing their own qualifications.
A new accreditation for work experience from McDonald’s, reported in The
Daily Telegraph
, has drawn criticism, partly based on whether or not
other organizations will find it acceptable and transferable. This should
not present a problem for those who attend Sainsbury’s baking college and
emerge with a skill that can clearly accompany them to a new employer should
they decide to move at some point in the future.

Questions: What can retailers do to convince young people that food
retailing is a great career choice? Should U.S. retailers likewise
take more proactive approaches in establishing apprenticeships or schools?
What recruiting programs work best in the U.S. for retail?
commentary] From the time I went to college in the U.S. right through
working with schools as parent, governor and consultant in England, I have been
a vehement advocate of education business partnerships. Rather than complaining
that schools are not producing sufficiently qualified or motivated staff,
businesses can (and should) work with them to ensure that young people
not only learn to think for themselves but also understand the ways in
which their education can lead to fulfilling and rewarding careers. It
would be lovely to think that that is where programs such as these will

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9 Comments on "Recruiting for Retail Careers"

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Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 1 month ago
The stigma associated with retail is that it is really hard work for low pay. When you speak of food service, take that sentence to the 10th power. In my days in the field, I was able to attract top talent by actually selling the brand and work environment. “You love movies? You will love working at Blockbuster!” could usually close the deal. Another great interview question is: “How important is camaraderie to you in the work environment?” If the candidate has trouble with the words camaraderie or environment, move on. After that, it’s up to the store’s leadership to create a functioning retail workspace. And you can’t spell functioning without fun. Retail is 90 percent a morale game and if you don’t have it, you aren’t running on all cylinders. Good workers will flock to companies that provide fun and functioning work environments. Training, resources and advancement are also very important selling factors when it comes to retail. But I ask all managers to check the dust levels on training binders and resource materials… Read more »
Brian Anderson
11 years 1 month ago

The National Retail Federation has a retail training program; also the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing is a great resource. Retail as compared with other professions has an image of–true or false–low pay, long hours and unclear career path. So retail has its hurdles before one even considers it for a career. That being said, there are retailers that have a great reputation as a place to work, make money, and enjoy a career path if chosen. Texas Roadhouse and The Container Store are two examples.

Training, environment, and career path equal a great place to work. As with any organization, when the CEO and senior team have a vision and mission that align people and customers as a top priority, that usually translates into a great company to work for. Take Biaggi and Darden Restaurants, for example.

There will always be a stigma regarding retail, especially food retail. Creating a brand people want to work with–and for–is critical. It starts at the top.

Connie Kski
Connie Kski
11 years 1 month ago

I’m a small independent retailer, so I have more flexibility than some larger organizations. I hire lots of teenagers to work in the pet shop. I tout it as a great first experience and a great first-career spot. We work hard, we have fun, and they’ll be part of the best pet shop in our end of the state.

I have teen employee alumni in all sorts of spots including vet school but a few stand out to me as having used their time here to develop business skills. One of the girls graduated from Syracuse and is now a buyer for a large department store.

I get bright ambitious teenagers that work hard … I give them a fair wage and teach them about working, about retail, and promise to help them in their college and career search after they leave me. They make a difference in my store … and I make a difference in their life.

Richard Kochersperger
11 years 1 month ago

There are many food retailers who understand the challenge of creating careers and making associates feel wanted and part of the organization. They invest in education and always will because it is good business. Having quality people who are knowledgeable and care about the customer experience increases profitability. Wegmans, Whole Foods, Stew Leonard’s, Dorothy Lane, West Point Markets, A Southern Season, Zingerman’s, McCaffrey’s, and Fresh Market make it happen!

Mel Kleiman
11 years 1 month ago
Here are a couple of simple questions that every hiring organization needs to be able to answer. 1. Are you really committed to hiring STAR employees? If the answer is YES, go to the next questions. 2. Can you come up with at least 10 reasons why a STAR employee should come to work for you? If you can, go to the next question. If not, come up with 10 reasons or admit you really are not interested in hiring STAR employees. (If you can not come up with the list where do you expect the STAR employee to get the list? 3. What are we going to do to retain the STAR employees once we have hired them? Most retailers and in fact, most businesses cannot answer these question with a YES. So they get what they deserve. Remember “If you beat your competition to the best employees, those best employees will help you beat your competition.” Or as Herb Keller, COB of Southwest Airlines said, “The day we screw up the people thing… Read more »
Sandy Miller
Sandy Miller
11 years 1 month ago

Retailers are beginning to make the connection that the author suggests. Wharton’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative is one such program that is supported by leaders in the industry. As education gets even more specialized, education focused on retail (instead of business in general) will grow. Financial investment by the industry will certainly accelerate that growth.

CPG’s profit per dollar of revenue is about eight times the profit of top retailers per dollar of revenue. Funding should come from these manufacturers as well those who depend on retail to provide a place to sell their merchandise.

Joan Treistman
11 years 1 month ago

Part of the challenge regarding recruits is awareness of the career opportunities. High Schools, colleges, etc, present a limited scope of what their graduates can consider for the future. It’s up to the industry to create awareness and the image of work and future that is desirable. Connecting with schools and delivering messages, material, websites and internships will make a big difference…in attracting the right people.

Yes, it’s about marketing and selling.

James Tenser
11 years 1 month ago

I must amplify Mr. Anderson’s endorsement of the Terry J. Lundgren center at the University of Arizona, and the associated academic program in Retailing and Consumer Sciences (RCSC). They do an outstanding job preparing young people for careers in retail management. (Disclosure: I was a graduate student there from 2002-2004.)

There are a number of university-level programs around the country with similar goals – University of Arkansas and Texas A&M come quickly to mind. All enjoy generous financial support and intensive recruiting from the nation’s largest chain retailers. Their grads mostly hope to become buyers or marketers with jobs at headquarters.

What’s missing, in my humble opinion, are community college level programs that prepare young people for careers in store management. Large chains desperately need well-trained people who want good careers in or near their home towns. There’s a huge industry opportunity to embrace this effort.

Ron Larson
11 years 1 month ago

Retailers face at least 3 challenges:
1. Making food retailing seem interesting enough to attract prospective employees (target includes high school and college students and college graduates).
2. Providing in-house training and supporting academic training so prospects and employees can feel that they can contribute early in their careers.
3. Develop career paths and advanced training so that employees with leadership potential see opportunities and do not migrate to other industries.

Technology changes are making it difficult for all training to be in-house. College graduates have more learning skills and may be more adaptable to future change. Too often the industry image and low starting pay discourage collage grads from considering food retailing.


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