In a series of features across this issue and the next three editions of Convenience Store, we look at how investment in staff training can reap huge benefits for retailers

Could do better. That would probably be a headmaster's verdict on half of all retailers and their aptitude for training. According to research by Sector Skills Council for Retail, Skillsmart Retail, only 57% of employers in retail offer any kind of training for their staff, compared with 65% across all sectors of industry. And anecdotal evidence suggests the figure for independent convenience retailers is even smaller.
But failing to offer staff training means retailers are missing out on some major benefits. Anne Seaman, chief executive at Skillsmart Retail, says: "I cannot overstate the positive effect that training has on a store and its staff. Employees develop a greater knowledge of their work and responsibilities, personal pride in their role, and a particular sense of value that comes from access to skills and qualifications. Contrary to what many retailers think, this empowerment also fosters a greater sense of loyalty and makes for a more productive and engaged workforce."
It's loyalty such as this that could halt that costly high staff turnover. "Staff turnover is still at about 33% across the retail sector and there is no evidence to suggest convenience stores are faring any better," says Seaman. "To some degree, this low rate of retention can be attributed to factors such as the large numbers of seasonal staff used, the number of students who work in retail while studying, and staff who move between retailers in search of better pay and conditions. However, a lack of training unquestionably contributes to the problem."
Aside from improved staff retention and morale, training your staff means you get to inject some of your own principles of how customers are served. If you expect your staff to replicate your high standards, you've got to show them what you want.
If that's not enough to convince you that training staff has only positive outcomes, try this for size: the government has plans to enforce the provision of training on employers. The Education and Skills Bill, which is currently progressing through the House of Commons, sets out duties on employers to release young people for the equivalent of one day a week to undertake training if the employer doesn't provide their own.
In other words, if you don't already offer the equivalent of one-day-a-week training, you may be forced to do so by law, or allow young staff members off site for training.
The Bill contains measures to encourage more young people to participate in learning post-16, so that by 2013 all 17-year-olds, and by 2015, all 18-year-olds, will be participating in some form of education or training.
It also implements recommendations from the Leitch Review on adult skills. This means Learning & Skills Councils will be required to run initiatives that help unemployed adults back into work. Skillsmart Retail has responded with Retail Works, a pre-employment training programme that aims to deliver the skills that employers want and give the long-term unemployed the skills they need to get work.

the hurdles

Shane Brennan, public affairs manager at the Association of Convenience Stores, says time and money are the main reasons that retailers are put off staff training. "Unfortunately, retailers don't tend to have huge amounts of money in their budget to offer formalised training. It's not only the capital cost, but also the time they would lose having someone off site for a day.
"Beyond that you have the issue of staff turnover," adds Brennan. "The youngsters tend to be more transient employees, and the older, more long-term staff tend not to want formalised training. They want the training to know how to do their job, but they're not motivated to take a qualification. The dilemma is who's appropriate for the training. The young recruits being trained up to more responsibility is quite a small pool of people in the total market."
One way of taking out the time barrier is to offer on-the-job training such as the NVQ in Retail Operations. "NVQs are just the sort of thing retailers need to take on," says Brennan. "The most enlightened retailers who are serious about growing their business tend to think about staff training as part of that.
"Another barrier is that it's so complicated. Where do you go for training, what's right for your business, who can provide it? The ACS needs to help retailers understand all that. We're working closely with Skillsmart Retail and making our website a gateway for retailers to research information about training. We also want to enable retailers to ask us questions about training over the phone."

good for everyone

If you are among the half who already take training seriously and have training schemes in place, make sure you shout about them. As Seaman says: "Providing ready access to all types of training is crucial in demonstrating your commitment to your staff and their development. Introducing an initiative like Retail Passport, a complete record of employee training, will show that you value your workforce, that you are committed to helping them progress and acquire new skills, and that retail is a rewarding career."
There is a wide array of schemes perfect for the retail sector, from National Vocational Qualifications to the government's new apprenticeship programmes. Turn to p37 for the low-down on these schemes and more.
And to find out how a comprehensive training programme has done wonders for one c-store retailer and her business, see p45.