The recent GCSE and A-level results set me thinking about career prospects in grocery in general and wholesale in particular. The careers adviser whose default for undecided pupils was grocery would no doubt be drummed out of the service. Nonetheless, many people, readers of The Grocer included, have fallen into the sector more by luck than judgement.
Whether people have found themselves disappointed with exam results, have worked part time as a student, or happen to use contacts to get a position, it is surprising how often they stay and engage with the opportunity.
Many of my brightest and best prospects have developed real and worthwhile careers through this path and most of them start from the shop floor. Indeed, while the boundaries between different sorts of wholesaler have become increasingly nebulous, we have found that individual wholesalers have developed increasingly distinct strategies and cultures and that “poaching” a trained employee has become more difficult due to the time and effort necessary.
” We need to change the mindset that wholesale’s a dead-end job”
As a result of this, and a creditable and strong directive from our employee owners, every vacancy we have is advertised internally and only on rare occasions now do we resort to external applicants, normally when technical skills or qualifications are needed. Even in technical areas such as IT, two of our excellent three-man team were Parfetts employees first and showed an aptitude for technology, rather than using a more traditional route into this area.
I am increasingly proud of the way in which we help to develop real careers for those with aptitude, commitment and the right attitude. In our business, it is not about paper qualifications but about showing real interest. Whether it is general managers, traders, accounts personnel, trainers, the aforementioned IT team or retail development specialists, key members of our team who started on the shop floor are now essential to our success.
We do need to change the mindset that says that wholesale and retail do not offer real opportunities, or worse still are dead-end jobs. Such changes are going to be hard fought and will take time. We should also admit that we are by no means perfect.
We are often still not quick enough to recognise talent and let youth stand or fall by talent not age. We certainly need to up our game on both gender and ethnic mix - a significant proportion of our industry workforce are female or from ethnic minority backgrounds, but this is still nowhere near being reflected in the boardroom.
Nonetheless I am proud to work in an industry with such opportunities to succeed on merit and break down barriers.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons