As the largest private sector employer, with nearly three million people employed across the UK, retail has created more new jobs than any other sector over the past five years.
The grocery sub-sector plays a huge role in that, employing about 1.5 million people (or half of all retail workers in the UK). Coupled with an annual turnover of about £134bn, it’s easy to recognise the importance of the food retail industry’s importance to local communities and national economies.
Yet despite its dominance - or perhaps because of it - the grocery sector as a whole is not providing enough of its workers with access to quality training. That’s one issue that Skillsmart Retail, the Sector Skills Council for Retail, is working to improve.
The National Employers’ Skills Survey 2004 highlights that about 750,000 (or half of all employees in the grocery sub-sector) are not trained to a high enough level to be considered fully proficient in their work. Of those skills gaps reported, 63% are in sales and customer service, and 12% in management. Skills gaps are also an issue for others working in food retail, such as 6% of machine operatives.
Grocery sector employers say that they are finding it difficult to recruit workers with the skills their business demands, with most highlighting gaps in literacy (62%), technical and practical application (58%), numeracy (42%), communication (40%), customer-handling (40%) and problem-solving (39%). Other areas of concern include information technology and management skills.
However, despite demand for more skilled employees, the same research shows that 51% of grocery employers have not funded or arranged training for staff in the past 12 months. This suggests that more needs to be done to make vocational training accessible.
In England, the demand from grocery retailers for job-ready candidates with the right business skills is increasingly being met by a growing network of retail Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVE), funded by Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) and supported by Skillsmart Retail. The total number of regional retail CoVEs currently stands at 13. Some areas, like London with its huge retail presence, have more than one.
Retail CoVEs are specialist areas of vocational provision, characterised by close links between retail employers and training providers. This allows them to play a vital role in training to fulfil the needs of grocery sector employers, from small independents to large multiples. They translate that need into learning - developing materials and course content reflecting demands of retail businesses and providing existing employees and job-ready candidates with the right skills and improved career prospects.
All retail CoVEs are equipped to provide a broad range of skills solutions from basic literacy, language and numeracy to high-level management training. Some offer learning support packages geared specifically at food retailers, providing training in areas such as fresh foods, beers, wines and spirits and national lottery. Other retail