September signalled a quiet revolution in our schools, with the launch of new diplomas teaching practical, work-related skills as part of of an overhaul of education for 14- to 19-year-olds. Five diplomas have launched this autumn, covering disciplines such as engineering, IT and the media, and by 2011, 17 different courses will be available, rolling out to be fully national by 2013. Retail is set ot be one of these. The Diploma in Retail Business is being co-ordinated by sector skills council Skillsmart Retail, and many of the UK’s leading retailers including Tesco, Asda, Boots, Debenhams and Spar have collaborated with academic institutions to draw up the course content, which includes functional skills, retail-specific studies and the opportunity to study specialist options, such as food retailing, in more depth. The new diplomas are designed to run in parallel with existing qualifications: learners can choose to study only the diploma, or to combine it with GCSEs or A levels. Core subjects such as maths and English will be taught as part of the new qualification but in a retail-related way, for example by calculating profit margins or writing promotional material, and students will receive at least 10 days’ work experience. Retailers can get involved in a number of ways: for example, by offering work experience, hosting masterclasses, giving talks in schools, or by mentoring students. Retail is in the third wave of diplomas, meaning that the first courses will start in September 2010, but store owners have only until November 26 of this year to join one of the local consortia of employers and educational establishments that will implement the programmes. Multiple retailers are already geared up to grab the opportunity, but independent stores will have to do a lot of the legwork themselves. Philip Marchant, corporate development director at Spar, chairs the steering group for the Diploma in Retail Business and encourages as many retailers as possible to get involved. He told C-Store: “As an industry, we have problems in attracting then retaining talent. There’s always been a feeling that if you can’t get any other job you’ll work in the local shop. I hope this diploma will change some of those perceptions and open people’s eyes that there are lots of exciting opportunities in retail. “The key thing for me is that it is structured to offer candidates practical experience. The applied learning is also important – students will learn English and maths, but in a way that will link their studies to practical aspects of business.” According to Marchant, the introduction to the retail workplace provided by the diploma means that new staff should also be much better prepared for their first day of work. “About half of all people who leave us do so in the first 12 weeks, and it’s usually down to the shock of joining an organisation without knowing what to expect,” he explains. “This should ease the transition.” He adds: “Many retailers are involved in the local community, and employing local students is another part of that, so I’m sure it’s something that retailers will want to do.”