When the skills shortage and retail sector are mentioned in the same breath, the mind immediately turns to a lack of customer service skills, with the finger pointed squarely at junior staff on the shop floor. But what about the top tier of the workforce, the managers and leaders whose decisions and actions define the way an organisation functions?
People wrongly presume that managers, because they have reached a position of authority, have learned their quota of skills and perform them to a high standard. But the fact is that the world of retail management is a fluid one, constantly being reformed by changes in consumer interest, needs of the workforce, or indeed legislation.
This is why it is important that managers undergo regular training, even those who work for organisations synonymous with high standards, such as Fortnum & Mason.
In January we approached our local Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the government agency tasked with raising skills across England, about providing a training course geared towards teaching NVQ Level 4 in Retail Management.
Having reviewed our development strategy, the London Central LSC provided the funding for 10 managers, including myself, to attend training sessions at Ladbroke Grove College in Kensington and Chelsea for one afternoon every three weeks. Attending sessions off site was an added bonus as it freed us from the possible distractions that may arise at work.
Over the course of the next eight months, each participant worked on compiling a portfolio of evidence which would prove certain skills and competencies
had been learned and performed to the occupational standards.
This included writing reports, providing feedback from meetings and answering an in-depth questionnaire.
There was also a practical side to the qualification, based on assessors observing half-hour training sessions. This gave the participants close monitoring and invaluable tips for improvement.
The following August, eight of the original 10 participants passed with flying colours. Each of us had different reasons for taking the course. Because this is my first managerial position, I wanted confirmation that I was performing the job effectively. I was also keen to learn the skills that would help me progress to the next stage in my career.
As a result, my confidence has improved and I feel more able to organise my team and deal with problems competently.
Yet managers are not the only ones to benefit from the course. There are advantages for junior members of staff because they have a more efficient environment to work in and can learn from better-qualified people. In addition, managers who attended the course are now more adept at identifying the needs of the workforce and finding the most suitable solution.
The course is by no means exclusive to large retail organisations such as Fortnum & Mason. The LSC provides information and support for organisations of all shapes and sizes and can advise which form of training is best suited. The qualification in retail management was the most appropriate training course for us at the time.
For other organisations or staff, particularly when an organisation is employing younger people, modern apprenticeships might be the best way forward. The aim is always to provide a tailored solution to a specific problem.
According to research recently released by Investors in People UK, 47% of retail employees feel opportunities for personal development and training motivate staff to be very productive (this rated higher than a pay rise). This confirms how acutely aware the retail industry is of the need to have the right skills.
With the LSC on hand to provide the information and support, retail organisations across the UK have everything in place to exploit the excellent training opportunities open to them. A further source of useful information is Skillsmart - the Sector Skills Council for the retail industry.