Retail is one of the few sectors where everything seems to be going right. Well almost. If you take a closer look, this people intensive industry seems to be suffering from a fundamental problem – how can it train and retain the staff in its lowest rungs?
“It’s a problem that the industry has been grappling with for some time. While there is a churn in people at the associate and mid-management level, the attrition rates are well in the normal range. The problem is at the bottom level where the attrition levels range between 40 and 45 per cent,” rues Shoppers’ Stop MD, B.S. Nagesh.
Though getting people at this level has not posed a problem in a country with a population of over a billion, it is training and retaining this workforce that poses a big challenge. “Retail, as a service industry, has slowly gained acceptance in urban India. Parents are no longer wary of letting their undergraduate children earn a stipend by working at stores,” says Nagesh, “However, apart from usual factors such as salary and leaving for better opportunities elsewhere, one of the biggest factors for attrition at this level is when people leave the job to complete their studies or opt for higher education.”
So what’s the solution? The Retail Association of India (RAI), along with all its member companies including Shoppers’ Stop, seems to have come up with what could be a good one. The association has tied up with the Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU) to offer a bachelor’s degree in retail management – through a combination of correspondence and learning at RAI’s 75 study centres – for undergraduates who want to go beyond pursuing a diploma. “What we have done is break up the course into three parts,” says RAI’s CEO, Gibson Vedamani, giving a lowdown on what one can expect from this course. “Interns who have completed their HSC can directly apply for it, where every year they have to compulsorily work in a retail outfit for six months for which they would get a stipend.”
He adds that if the student wants to opt out after the first year, “he or she would get a diploma in retail management. After the second year, he/she could pass out with an advanced diploma and if he/she completes the three-year course, there’s a Bachelors in Business Administration (Retail) from IGNOU to take away.”
The industry has given its approval to this course that will see an increase in the talent available at the bottom of the pyramid. “Big retailers have already come forward for and we have already got about 2,500 internship vacancies for the students,” says Vedamani.
The correspondence course for retail, which would cost about Rs 6,000, is slated to begin in June.