Training in retail: A reality check

Training the sales personnel is important for a good brand image.
Retail staff training

The need for skilled manpower has been one of the biggest challenges plaguing the industry for a long time now. But, even though the solution to this is nowhere in sight, the future does not look bleak.

It is a well known fact in the industry that properly trained retail staff delivers high customer service and higher value sales to the employer. Though training the retail staff is no easy task, one has to make the effort to better one’s reputation and position, as well as provide higher levels of customer satisfaction. Training the staff requires a high investment, but these costs go a long way in ensuring that the brand’s image is maintained.

Currently, over 40 million people are employed in the retail sector, and according to the Retailers Association of India (RAI), approximately 1.6 million workers are employed in the organised retail sector. According to the latest report, one million people will be required in the next two years and between 2 -4 million in the next five years.

Broadly, the manpower in a retail company can be classified into front end, operations and back end management. There are some overlaps between the latter two, since there is a management layer in the operations as well. A typical retail organisation would employ 75-85 per cent of people in the front end, 10-15 per cent people in operations and 3-5 per cent people in management.

Causes of concern

The staff training has to be repeated at regular intervals to ensure that the fresh recruits also get the required training. Also, the staff needs to be trained when some new technology or product is introduced. Training results in reduction in the duration of working hours of the staff. Though some exceptions exist, retail staff often does not have a strong academic background and are not used to formal learning. Hence, any training that they receive must be appropriate to the way they are used to learning.

In large organisations, retail staff is spread widely across the country. Centralising the training by bringing the staff together is expensive and impractical. Similarly, it is neither feasible nor possible to send trainers to each and every store. Moreover, the management is generally centralised and needs to have accurate and timely reports on the effectiveness of all training. Some other reasons for concern are shortage of employable manpower, acceptance of retail as a lucrative career option and high attrition rates due to intense competition within the industry.

Due to these reasons, traditional classroom based teaching methods are neither apt nor efficient.

Lack of skill

Given the expected investments and future projections of organised retail, there is bound to be significant growth in employment opportunities in India. Currently, the Indian retail sector – both organised and unorganised – employs close to 40 million workers. Most of these workers are shop owners. A vast majority of the people who are employed in such stores lack the skills to work in an organised retail environment.

Bridging the gap

In some cases, training can be funded by the Learning and Skills Council, which means that training can be provided at little or no cost. Generally, very few institutes are focusing on retail vocational training. Most retailers rely on in-house training centres or ‘on-the-job’ training for bridging the skill gap. For a brand like Fastrack, it is critical that the front end sales personnel live the brand themselves. The brand, laying a lot of importance on attitude and personality, looks for candidates who are youthful and fashion conscious, and not just good sales people. Bharti Walmart has tied up with Centum Learning to provide skilled workforce not only for their outlets but also for outsourcing to other brands. “Future group has its in-house training department & the program they conduct is called as FLDP -future learning & development program” says Indus League CEO - Rachna Aggarwal.

Primarily recognised as a CSR initiative of the brand, such models can be highly successful considering the lack of activity in this regard.

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