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ExpertSpeak: Getting hold of retail tales by the tail

Here is a refrain I often get to hear from those who aren’t familiar with the retail industry: “The industry is facing a people crunch”, says Sanjay Jog.
None | By Sanjay Jog
UPDATED ON JUL 21, 2007 11:40 PM IST

Here is a refrain I often get to hear from those who aren’t familiar with the retail industry: “The industry is facing a people crunch.” Many facts could be posited to prove the falsity of the statement. First, the industry is growing at over 100 per cent. The Future Group, for one, employs over 18,000 people now, and plans to scale this up to 34,000 by June next year. Now take this number as an industry average and multiply it for players such as Reliance and Birla, who are getting aggressive in organised retail, and Bharti, which is yet to launch in the sector. Then you would realise that the refrain is not true.

On the job openings

Another question is often posed: “Do we have the skilled labour for a retail job?” My answer would be, “Yes, you do.” This has to do with the skills required for the most abundant job opportunity in the sector. Most of the openings in the sector are for frontline shop people. For this, one would basically need about 12-15 years of education. In case of lifestyle stores such as Pantaloon or Shoppers’ Stop, one would need to look at graduates.

On the skills needed

Retail jobs do not require specialised skills. Whatever skills are required can be taught in 5-6 weeks. Most retailers put freshers though this kind of training before they begin at the job. With organized retail moving into smaller towns, job opportunities there have increased manifold. In India the neighbourhood store concept is still very strong. So, most retailers look for people familiar with the area. People who handle the frontline also need not be very fluent in English. As long as they comprehend the language, it’s fine if they are not very comfortable in communicating in it. So retail provides a sea of opportunities to the non-BPO kinds whose skills in English are just about passable.

On the courses available

When organised retail first started gaining momentum, there were barely any courses that taught the nuances of retailing. But today, graduates can opt for a number of post-graduate and post-HSC courses specific to the industry.

Students can choose from one-year retail programmes in colleges such as KG Somaiya in Mumbai to courses in retail from the Madurai Kamraj University. The latter is a correspondence course that has already enrolled 40,000 students across 125 centres in India. Since the university does not have centres in cities such as Kolhapur and Sangli, students can enrol through the Big Bazaar outlets there. We encourage our undergraduate employees to undertake this ‘earn while you learn’ programme to upgrade.

On getting a job

The Future group has a tie-up with an NGO in Chandigarh, which works with people from the northeastern part of India to bring them into the mainstream. The group has about 150 people who have been employed at different outlets through this channel. Consultants such as Avtaar in Chennai also help us to get the right kind of profiles, especially for our hypermarket business where we also employ women who would like to work from home or do a part-time job.

For post-graduates who have just completed an MBA, the profile of a store manager is not only challenging but also a stepping stone for bigger career opportunities. A store manager is what I would like to call a ‘mini CEO’, as he or she is in charge of the store. Like a CEO for the whole company, it is the manager who is responsible for how well a store performs.

With over 50,000 people being added to the hypermarket and lifestyle formats alone every year, retail is a sure-shot career opportunity not only for graduates and post-graduates looking for a challenging profile with a quick career graph, but also for retired personnel who have still not lost the steam to work.

(As told to Radhika Pancholi)

Sanjay Jog is HR head at the Future Group

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