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Comment: The importance of investing in skills for young retail employees

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Last Friday (July 15) marked World Youth Skills Day, a day to reflect on how skills development can improve youth employment across the world. For retail businesses, this was an opportunity to encourage young people into the sector by highlighting the access routes to work, as well as the skills they can develop for a rewarding and fulfilling career in the sector. 

The issue of youth unemployment and under-employment is global. Last year in the UK, people aged 16-24 were three times more likely to be unemployed than older workers. In a difficult job market it can be particularly challenging, as young people often feel that university is the ultimate end goal and the only available option. A recent survey of graduate employers reported an eight per cent fall in advertised graduate openings in 2016 compared with the previous year, and businesses now have a responsibility to try and find alternative solutions to bridge the gap between education and the world of work.

When young people are considering their future, the retail sector can offer a number of different entry route options, which makes a career in retail much more accessible. Once established, there are a number of training and certification programme opportunities both in-house and from organisations including the British Retail Consortium, that allow young people to develop skills on the job and learn while you earn, which enables career progression regardless of previous experience. At Asda, a tailored career development programme caters to the unemployed, school or university leavers, or a parent returning to work. All of these career development programmes pay from day one and train you on the job for the skills you need to grow and progress.

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There is a lot of misinformation around the opportunities available to young people in retail. For many, a job in this sector will mean a sustainable and satisfying career path with a number of development opportunities along the way. 

Retailers can be effective partners to education institutions, by working together to provide higher education opportunities for people who previously might not have had access to these opportunities, while the degrees in turn will benefit the business. An example of an effective partnership is the On Your Marks programme, which sees Asda partner with Middlesex University to give colleagues the chance to gain a university degree while working. Colleagues can boost their future career while retailers secure the skills they are looking for in future managers. Linked directly to career progression, this programme allows colleagues to gain practical experience alongside a qualification and achieve career promotion to management positions.

As well as developing graduate and in-house talent, retailers are also able to play a key role in ensuring young people in their community have access to jobs, even if they’re not currently in education, employment or training. Private and public sector partnerships between retailers, charities and government can result in real job opportunities. Many retailers have partnered with the likes of Movement to Work Business in the Community or the Prince’s Trust to run structured training programmes for young people to gain in-store and class based experience. The benefits for retailers sourcing talent this way is noticeable, with programme colleagues demonstrating great enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. 

There are alternative routes to work, but retailers, businesses and educational institutions all have a part to play in helping to make sure that more young people succeed in the workplace by developing their skills to match the business needs. As key players in communities, retailers have the chance to bridge the gap for young people between school and work, unemployment and training and non-education and learning. 

Written by Shelley Thomas, VP of People at Asda

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Published on Thursday 21 July by Shelley Thomas, VP Of People At Asda

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