Woolies tackles skills development

24 February 2010

Woolworths has tackled the skills shortage in South Africa’s retail industry by launching a 12- to 18-month career development programme for current employees as well as unemployed and underemployed previously disadvantaged graduates – most of whom will be employed by the company afterwards.

The initiative, which is benchmarked against the best programmes of its kind in the world, offers unemployed and underemployed graduates a unique opportunity to work across all departments at Woolworths. The graduates will then gain an executive education certificate from the highly regarded University of Stellenbosch Business Executive Development Ltd (USB-ED).

The Woolworths Growth Academy is co-funded by Woolworths and the Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority (Seta). All participants of academy will be paid a salary, and the vast majority of the candidates will be employed by Woolworths upon the programme’s completion.

“Woolworths has long invested in local talent through a range of learning interventions for our own employees and external candidates. We have, however, grown increasingly concerned about the rates of graduate unemployment and the shortage of specialist skills in the local market,” Woolworths CEO Simon Susman said in a statement last month.

“We cannot sit back and wish these problems away. We have done something about it in partnership with the Wholesale and Retail Seta and the USB-ED.”

Talent development

According to Susman, Woolworths’ talent development teams have worked closely with leading learning specialists to ensure that the programme offers candidates a deep understanding of the industry, describing it as a “master class in retail”.

“Our Growth Academy aims to groom the future leaders of our company and industry and open the door to previously disadvantaged talent in our industry,” he said.

Twenty graduates have already been selected for this year’s Growth Academy class. Candidates were sourced both externally and internally and underwent a rigorous interview process.

The second phase of the recruitment is under way, and an additional pool of 19 graduates from outside Woolworths will be recruited for this inaugural Growth Academy class, while four additional graduates will be recruited from within Woolworths.

“We were overwhelmed by the calibre of applicants, but troubled to see how many South African graduates are either unemployed or under-employed,” Susman said. “For example, we met a finance graduate who was working part-time in a plant nursery.”

Retail: key economic driver

Wholesale and Retail Seta CEO Joel Dikgole said the retail sector was a key driver of the economy as well as a major employer, but faced a critical shortage of home grown specialist skills.

He said the Seta was very excited about the project, especially because the academic curriculum offered to academy graduates was a result of a unprecedented collaboration between Woolworths, the Seta and the University of Stellenbosch Business School Executive Development.

“Previously disadvantaged graduates often put themselves through university at great expense but find themselves left in the cold because they lack the relevant work experience,” Dikgole said.

“Woolworths Growth Academy proves that public and private partnerships can make a real difference in tackling the challenges posed by our labour force.”

SAinfo reporter

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