Changing minds about retail
Retail is often not top of mind when choosing a career even though it is New Zealand’s second-largest employer, with more than 300,000 people working in the sector across a wide range of roles.
The Warehouse Group, however, is passionate about retail and wants to help people discover that the sector offers rewarding and stimulating career opportunities – that's why The Warehouse Group have partnered with Massey University since 2014 to develop training initiatives.
These include the Stephen Small Academic Achievement Award. This was presented last week to Massey University student Jenny Simpson, who is studying the Bachelor of Retail and Business Management degree (BRBM).
The award was established in memory of Stephen Small, Chief Financial Officer for The Warehouse Group from April 2012 to May 2016 to recognise his contribution to The Warehouse Group and acknowledge his passion to profile retail as a career.
It goes to the top performing student in the Fundamentals of Retail Paper at Massey University and comes with a monetary contribution to future study and the opportunity to shadow one of our Executives.
Jenny's first job was with The Warehouse Taupo, which she says gave her the inspiration to study the business degree. She is in the second year and says the paper has proved invaluable for her wider study.
“It really opened up my eyes to what retail is and how much it is in our daily life. It’s not just your basic buying something, it’s customer service, that channel of moving product to the final user in the most efficient way possible. Doing the retail paper from the very beginning has helped all my other papers on another level. A lot of people are very closed minded about retail and I’m sitting there in my groups telling them it that it’s much more than that. Without doing the retail paper I would have never known.”
The Warehouse Group also offers scholarships for the BRBM at Massey University to encourage people to choose retail as a career.
This unique qualification is New Zealand’s only degree focused solely on the retail sector to develop qualified graduates with sound managerial skills and retail industry knowledge.
After starting on the checkout at The Warehouse Westgate, Cade Wharepouri was hooked on retail as a career. He quickly moved into a supervisor role and as soon as he heard about The Warehouse scholarship, applied for it and was accepted into the Bachelor programmes.
He is now in the third year of his degree and is studying full-time while working part-time in the People Support Team at the Group’s Store Support Office. He was drawn to retail because of how wide the opportunities are, he says.
“As it’s a management degree, you are learning management skills that apply to many different roles. It’s not just the store front. There is this negative perception of retail being just the shop floor, that’s not the case at all.”
He says he found the connections he has made through the degree especially helpful. “You meet senior people from the retail sector when they guest lecture and share their expertise, but also kids fresh out of high school and senior managers who are taking the course alongside you.”
It’s a course that will suit everyone, says Cade, from people who are the middle stages, looking to take the next step in their career. or recent school leavers.
By contrast, Marc Blackburn, Business Lead Warehouse Management Systems, Logistics Support at The Warehouse Group has been working in the retail sector for more than 30 years. He is also in his third year of the degree and says he is surprised at how much he has learnt from his studies.
“If I look back three years, the reasons for doing it have changed. I’m in a senior role and I never felt that I was held back by not having a degree, but despite the fact I’d been working in retail for thirty years and seen all this change, I discovered I hadn’t understood a lot of the reasons behind things like legislation and what was driving consumer behaviour.”
Doing the degree has triggered a massive change in his thinking about retail, he says.
”I love that it is opening me up to new concepts and ideas, changed the way I think, it’s armed me with more knowledge I can use day to day.
Learning is now a journey, something I don’t see an end to. When I finish, it will be what next?”
Emily Wallace is in the second semester of her degree. She has worked for the The Warehouse Group for five years, starting in stores as customer service representative and then moving to the Store Support Office as a People Support Team Leader.
She is always interested in learning and upskilling, she says, and the hands-on experience while studying was invaluable as she could incorporate the knowledge she was gaining in her role.
“I don’t know what I expected when I started in retail, but it’s evolved into a lot more – especially coming to support office.
The degree has already given me an important breadth of knowledge about retail.
“I absolutely recommend it, I think even though it’s a stretch for me at the moment, juggling work and family life, if you committed to it and you can invest the time it is really worthwhile. The scholarship has been a massive support.”
Professor Jonathan Elms, who leads the degree programme, has overseen the course since its inception and is looking forward to the next batch of students graduating in March. The course had originally attracted a lot of part-time mature students, he says, but he was delighted that more high school graduates were now enrolling.
“It’s a small degree as far as the intake goes, which is great as it means we can nurture and support students in both the academic and practitioner side, in terms of the internships, experiential learning they undertake.
The course is also available for online learning, so they gave students spanning the country from Keri Keri to Invercargill, he says. It can also be staircased, starting with a diploma through to graduate levels.
The programme had attracted students from other degree courses who were increasingly recognising the value of retail as a career path. However, the industry has a lot of work to do to change the negative perception of retail as a career, he says.
"What we see as retail is effectively the shop floor operations, and we equate that with retail, especially if we have either been bad consumers or seem shocking cases of how shoppers are treated in store by employees. That is the key interface that consumers see. They don’t see the other 90 percent of roles behind the scenes, from logistics to supply chain management, strategy, merchandising,
“There are some huge opportunities and if you look at organisation like the Warehouse Group, you can start in People Support, move to marketing, develop your skills, go into social media, it’s an organic career and that is something our younger students are really into because if you say to an 18-year old what do you want to do for a career, they often have no idea. So this is an opportunity to move and shape and gain experiences, which really beneficial and a real positive.”