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According to Leigh Blochlinger, head of Retail Relate, a South African organisation providing retail skills training among South Africa’s rural youth, there is a threat of severe skills shortages in the retail sector.
“The retail sector needs an estimated 42 000 managers alone to meet growth demands. Our role is to devise strategies to turn this scenario around by providing relevant training to this sector,” says Blochlinger. A retail industry veteran of 38 years, Blochlinger brings valuable insights into what is needed resource wise to ensure sustainable growth of this sector.

South Africa’s retail and wholesale sector is one of the country’s largest and most diverse. Employing an estimated 2 825 000 people and comprising 22% of the national labour force, its size and scope also makes it a potential wellspring of employment opportunities.

Despite this, the CareerJunction Index for the FMCG, Retail and Wholesale sector (December 2011) dropped to 89.55 points (from 113 index points in 2010), signalling weakening recruitment conditions. Once again, the scarcity of adequately trained job seekers is stunting the growth of this sector.

The supply and demand ratios are not the same for all levels of labour. Currently, more than 17% of the sector’s potential labour force falls under the entry level and junior categories, which do not require tertiary education.

Demand in these categories is very low, creating an oversupply of unskilled potential career seekers. On the other hand, there is a major demand for mid-level professionals. Currently, nearly 70% of the posted job adverts require skilled and senior labour, but only 44.61% of potential career seekers represent the demanded skills.

Ironically, there is also an oversupply of labour in the top end management and executive levels.

Management training needed

The company’s offerings have been formulated to redress this situation. Its SETA accredited programmes provide a unique combination of practical on the job skills training and academic theory.

“While we offer a broad spectrum of training, we are currently focusing on the training of retail managers and supervisors. This is supported by the Wholesale and Retail (W&R) SETA’s latest skills shortage report, which has identified a nationwide critical shortage of individuals qualified to fill these positions,” she adds.

Trainees are sourced from rural areas, where educational facilities offering relevant training to the retail sector are at their scarcest and where extreme poverty is stifling the potential of these youngsters to make a living.

Funding from the W&R SETA, as well as partnerships with retailers, make it possible for those who cannot afford to pay for tertiary education to become valuable future employees. Participatory retail groups offering stores as training grounds for trainees are The Foschini Group, Pep, Metro, Autozone, TWK, OK Grocer and Essential Hardware.

Skills gap

Skills gaps in the retail sector are most apparent in the occupational fields of sales, client services, branch and store management and general management. To compound matters, skills development is also needed in areas such as the National Credit Act, the Consumer Protection Act, labour compliance, labour relations, training of shop floor stewards, supply chain management, market research, total quality management, information management and consumer behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, these skills shortages stem from a lack of tertiary level educational curricula relevant to the wholesale and retail sector and insufficient on-the-job training.

Colleges concede that their offerings are not aligned to the W&R SETA’s scarce skills needs. On-the-job training programmes at management and professional level are in generally in short supply.

Worryingly, many learnerships are proving to be a waste of time and money – of the 18 784 learnerships registered with W&R SETA between 2005 and 2010, 3 864 are stagnant and 4 610 were terminated, a costly failure rate of over 40%.

What’s more, educational levels are extremely low, with only 1.27% of this workforce holding bachelor’s degrees, 4.35% having a matric certificate and a diploma, 34.95% with matric only, 12.86% with grade 11 and a 39.71% having education below grade 11. In other words, a shocking 87.52% of the workforce in the sector only has education levels from matric and below.

Rural youth programme

Retail Relate recently launched its Rural Youth Programme, a 12-month course that will provide training to 502 rural youth in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West and the Northern Cape.

Graduates of the programme will qualify for an NQF 5 Management certificate and will have a full year’s working experience, thanks to the co-operation of the partner stores. “The programme could even facilitate entrepreneurial opportunities, as the training and experience will equip the learners to start their own business ventures.”

Another programme that fell in line with the company’s passion for empowering South Africa’s youth to become (profitably employed) was last year’s Unemployed Youth Assistance Project. This 12-month programme provided training and practical experience for 214 interns from Gauteng. The learnership went extremely well with only a 10% drop off rate – 4% due to permanent employment. A graduation ceremony will be held on 22 March 2012 for those who successfully completed the course.

Though the Rural Youth Programme has barely begun, the team is wasting no time in continuing to educate and empower more rural youth. Plans are in place to roll the project out in more provinces. “We also plan to boost participation in the current rural areas by offering an NQF 3 qualification and skills programmes for the informal retail sector,” concludes Blochlinger.

Article by BizCommunity

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