Although the convenience sector is coping relatively well in the current economic climate, industry insiders warn that this is no time to take a back seat when it comes to skilling up.

Convenience Store caught up with Spar's managing director Jerry Marwood at Skillsmart's Improving Business Performance Through Skills event on September 10, to hear his views on training.

"We need to seize the initiative now, make sure our businesses are the best they can be and keep the spending trend going in the right direction," he says.

"One sure way to improve the productivity of your business is through skills. Put simply, investing in skills and the development of our workforce is vital to maintaining a competitive advantage both in the current climate and going forward."

He claims that training isn't just for the mults. "It's important for us all to remember that skills and productivity are not just for those with thousands of staff, they are core to any successful store."

Nick Morrell, who runs Spar Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire, is a great example of the benefits that can be achieved with training.

"Your store is only as good as the staff," says the retailer, who has a number of NVQ-qualified employees. "If they're knowledgeable, then they're happier and more confident. Our footfall has definitely increased since staff were trained."

Debra Bott, manager of Best One Express Anstey Stores and Post Office in Leicestershire, has also invested in training to raise her game. She hasn't looked back since gaining a level 2 NVQ in retail skills: "I am much more confident now and can resolve issues independently which reduces the need for me to ask my manager," she says.

Until recently, there had never been a clear path to nationally-recognised retail qualifications or training programmes, meaning many employers were left unsure of the best way to skill up, explains Marwood.

But now retailers have direct access to training through the National Skills Academy for Retail, a network of one-stop walk-in retail skills shops. "The Academy enables c-stores of any size to find the right training quickly and painlessly it is the solution retail has been waiting for," he says.

"Now is precisely the time to keep investing in the skills and talents of our people. Let's not forget that it is their commitment, productivity and professionalism that will ultimately get us through these tough times and make us the best performing businesses in the future."

Retailers can find out about the National Skills Academy for Retail by visiting www.nsaforretail.com or by calling 0207 462 5089.

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