Are there any answers to the industry's staff problems?

Finding the right staff and keeping them is a common problem for convenience retailers, and 2007 showed no signs of improvement in this area.
According to sector skills council Skillsmart Retail, staff turnover is still at about 33% across the retail sector. Skillsmart Retail attributes a degree of this to industry factors such as the large numbers of seasonal staff used to cover peak trading periods, the number of students who work in retail while studying but who move to other sectors after graduating, and staff who move between retailers in search of better pay and conditions. But a lack of training also contributes to the problem.
There are a number of initiatives that could help c-stores in 2008. One is Skills Shops. These offer training, coaching, guidance and access to vocational courses. Set up in conjunction with retailers and training providers, Skills Shops can be anything from an information desk on a high street to a unit within a shopping centre. They can offer great benefits to convenience stores through easy access to skills and retail-based courses.
Skillsmart Retail is also developing a pre-employment pack which will equip entry-level candidates with the skills that convenience stores require from new employees. Taking the form of a workbook and supported by a training programme, the pre-employment packs provide a route into employment for those who have spent sustained periods of time on benefits.
There's also the Train to Gain scheme. Some 7,000 retailers have already signed up to the initiative which provides impartial, independent advice on training for all businesses across England. It aims to ensure that all staff have the right skills to do their job effectively by giving convenience store owners access to a skills broker who will carry out an analysis of all training requirements.

Anne Seaman, chief executive, Skillsmart Retail



"A lack of training unquestionably contributes to the problem and not all retailers realise that up-skilling staff is an investment in the future. Take apprenticeships - one of the oldest and most successful training models, but one that was almost overlooked by convenience stores last year.
"The government recently announced that it is to introduce 120,000 new apprenticeships for under-25s and 30,000 places for older workers, showing how important apprenticeships are to the sector.
"To improve their recruitment problems, retailers need to build a reputation in the community for being a good employer. Providing access to training is also crucial in demonstrating your commitment to your staff. Introducing an initiative like RetailPassport, a complete record of employee training, will show that you value your workforce.
"Second, stress the opportunities retail offers the long-term unemployed, or those who require flexible working hours. With its relatively low barriers to entry, our industry is in a perfect position to harness the potential that these marginalised groups offer."

Kishor Patel, Nisa Local independent retailer, Houghton Regis, bedfordshire



"Traditionally, we have more of a churn of staff with sales assistants than at management level. The problem is people see retail as stacking shelves and serving customers, but there's a lot more to it than that, and we've been working with Skillsmart Retail to try to change that profile.
"We are now empowering our staff by providing more data about the business so they understand the results of their actions, and it gives them good job satisfaction.
"It is a challenge finding the right people and you have to take it cautiously - hire slowly and fire quickly I was once told. Training plays a huge role and we work with Retail Plus on NVQs for our staff. I'm very interested in apprenticeships as well."

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