The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has claimed that workplace qualifications in the retail sector are an increasingly attractive possibility for school-leavers, as the opportunity to earn while you learn takes precedence over university debt.
The leading retail body is to host a debate on the issue at the Labour Party Conference this morning, aiming to discuss whether entering the workplace from the age of 16 is preferable to going to university.
Retail employs nearly three million people in the UK, a third of them aged 25 or younger and the BRC noted that retailers are investing an average of £1,275 per employee in training each year, accounting for over 12 per cent of the UK’s total training spend.
Meanwhile university courses, which thousands of students are beginning across the country this week, are set to cost students up to £9,000 a year from 2012.
BRC Director General Stephen Robertson pointed out that on-the-job training allowed for young people to learn transferable skills such as buying, marketing, customer service and management.
“Many young people considering university will be worried about building up huge debts which will take years to pay off,” he said. “An alternative is to get a job which gives access to training and personal development funded by an employer while also picking up a salary. That option is getting more attractive all the time.”
These comments follow news that a number of reputable retailers have launched trainee programmes. Last month, Sainsbury’s announced the re-launch of its Trainee Manager programme, aimed at school-leavers.
Speaking to Retail Gazette at the time of the announcement, Jackie Hallums, Head of Resourcing for the supermarket, explained: “We believe that all young people have a huge amount to offer and employ a huge number across our stores.
“We know from experience that these roles are attractive for school leavers as they offer a route to management without the need to go to university – something that is increasingly rare.”
Robertson feels that such schemes should be embraced by the sector as a whole.
“There must be an end to the snobbery about workplace qualifications,” he commented.
“Given the rising cost of getting a university education and falling employment prospects for young people, degree level education is becoming less relevant for some.
“We owe it to our young people to challenge the dominance of degrees and let them get the appropriate level of credit for skills and experiences they pick up while in work.
“In retail you really can start on the shop floor and work your way to the top. Many well-known retail chief executives have done just that.”