Asda - championing retail careers
With the proliferation of online shopping, click and collect and relentless price wars, the retail sector has experienced unprecedented change in the last five years, says Hayley Tatum, senior vice-president – people, at Asda.
She emphasises that it is essential to have digital natives in the business to respond to this change and bring innovation. “Young people have so much to teach us about new ways of communication and thinking,” she adds.
Yet Tatum believes the perception of working in the retail sector as a ‘last resort’ still prevails. “Even today, students in our schools are being told: ‘If you don’t buck up your ideas, you’ll end up stacking shelves’. It’s so far off the mark,” she says.
With 170,000 employees in 576 stores, Asda operates in most communities across the UK. It offers flexible working and employees do not need qualifications to join. For her, demonstrating the quality of careers and training available in retail is crucial for attracting young talent.
“We hire for attitude and train for skill,” she says. “There’s nothing stopping anyone becoming the CEO. We need clear and transparent career paths to encourage people to stay.” Tatum – who started her own career as a checkout operator – is keen to prove that retail can, and should be, a career of choice. “Our chief executive, Andy Clark, is an excellent example – he started off on the shop floor and now runs Asda.
“I want to inspire people to join retailing and have a career that can be diverse, satisfying and rewarding – and choose to do it,” she says.
Asda employs 36,320 people aged 16-24 and runs several programmes to reach out to young talent. This includes work experience, a school leaver scheme, apprenticeships, a retail honours degree and various graduate programmes.
Once employed, there is a strong emphasis on structured development to help employees progress while in role. ‘Step In’ is a four-week induction programme for new hires, which culminates in an accreditation certificate and performance review to allow people to move into the ‘Step On’ stage after six months’ service. This includes coaching, a City & Guilds retail apprenticeship and responsibilities such as first aid training, moving to a new department and becoming a training buddy. Next is ‘Step Up’. Following a positive performance review, colleagues can seek career progression where they can build on their knowledge to deliver excellent customer service within a variety of roles.
Asda is also actively involved in community initiatives and works with the Prince’s Trust to reach out to disadvantaged young people. “If you don’t have any role models in your family, or experience of work, it can be difficult to get onto the career ladder,” says Tatum.
“With so many NEETs (not in education, employment or training) in the UK, we feel committed to doing something to break that vicious cycle,” Tatum says.
In 2013, the supermarket giant ran several four-week ‘Get into Retail’ programmes, offering unemployed 16-25 year-olds the chance to gain work experience, accredited skills and retail-related training in stores across Cardiff, Birmingham and the north east of England.
All 36 participants were offered full-time, permanent jobs and there are plans to reach a further 200 people this year.
“We give people a chance. We show them role models and give them mentors to develop their confidence. As they grow, they volunteer for more – they start enjoying their role and we see them flourish,” says Tatum.
Ultimately, she wants Asda’s future talent initiatives to become more scalable. “We’re investing a lot of resource into this so we want to start ramping up the numbers,” she says.
As a sector which employs over three million people – around one in seven of the UK’s workforce – Tatum says retail businesses are collaborating well. She highlights the ‘Feeding Britain’s Future – Skills for Work Month’ which last year saw 190 companies offer pre-employment training to thousands of unemployed young people. It included CV tips, interview training and behind-the-scenes tours of supermarkets, factories, depots, farms and offices.
The workshops were designed following a focus group – involving 50 young unemployed people – in 2012, and a successful pilot week in September of that year. In the business world, which Tatum argues is becoming increasingly ‘mashed up’, employers have a shared responsibility to help people get their first experience of work and make it positive. “People don’t join one business for life – new talent at McDonald’s could be the leaders of the future at Asda,” she says. “If we take care of people early in their careers, we will all benefit.”
She argues that the government must ensure the education system can help prepare people for all eventualities as they leave it. “Careers advice needs to be better,” she asserts. “It feels like everyone else is holding [young people’s] cards right now – and it’s time to give them back control.”