Small stores are making valiant attempts to keep young people employed

The convenience store sector is playing a key role in the battle to stem rising youth unemployment, and efforts look likely to redouble in 2012 thanks to a range of new incentives for store owners.

Dramatic improvements to training, and the launch of respected retail diplomas by some symbol groups, are combining to make convenience an increasingly attractive career choice for 16 to 24-year-olds, with more than 334,000 of them employed in the sector in 2011. “Convenience retail offers the perfect breeding ground for employment inside and outside the industry,” Skillsmart Retail chief executive Anne Seaman told C-Store. “Anyone who has worked in retail will always be employable as it gives key skills in teamwork and problem solving. It has offered a lot of young people their first rung on the career ladder and helped transform them.”

Youth unemployment reached new heights in December, according to the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures which revealed that 731,000 16 to 24-year-olds were out of work.

In a bid to drive this figure down, and encourage even more convenience stores to take on young people, Skillsmart Retail and the National Skills Academy for Retail are launching a new Retail Apprenticeship Training Agency (RATA) which will remove all the costs, risks, and bureaucracy associated with taking on an apprentice.

The young person will be employed by RATA and hired out to the independent retailer who will pay for a year’s placement while they complete their apprenticeship. RATA will take responsibility for all pre-employment and on-the-job training as well as pastoral care.

Smaller retailers will also be able to benefit from new grants from the National Apprenticeship Service, with £1,500 being made available to 40,000 small and medium-sized businesses that recruit 16 to 24-year-olds this year.

The development comes just days after job creation claims by Tesco and Asda were publicly debunked by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

Your views

“Having young people on your workforce has some serious benefits. They are eager and enthusiastic . Sure, some of them can be a little immature and lacking in numeracy and communication skills, but with the right support they can thrive. High standards of training in the industry now mean that a growing number are turning to retail as a proper career choice and not just a temporary Saturday job.”

Kishor Patel, Houghton Trading, Bedfordshire

“Some retailers are nervous about employing young staff for fear that their social lives might take precedence over work, but we’ve found them amazing. They bring vibrancy and new ideas to the store. However, training and incentives are important to maintain that excitement.”

Jason Tamplin, Symonds’ Budgens, Wells, Somerset