Woolworths, a South African retailer, recently gave lecturers - from five Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) - into the retail industry through the second instalment of its pioneering ‘Inside Retail’ programme.
The initiative provides on-the-ground experience of real life, operational processes within the industry and generally, practical experience to supplement theoretical training at colleges. This is done within the ambit of skills development for the retail sector, which desperately needs training support.
Woolworths National Learning and Development Manager, Sibongile Antoni, said Inside Retail was a positive tool for developing public TVET colleges to advance skills development in South Africa – and that this year’s programme exceeded expectations and was “a major success”.
“The programme always performs way beyond our expectations and this year it was no different. What always surprises me is what the TVET lecturers take away with them and how much value a practical programme like this offers. In some ways it highlights the gaps in our education system, but also the opportunities that exist for retailers to play a role in developing the industry,” said Antoni.
Antoni said it was a worthwhile investment into the future development of the industry.
“On the last day of the programme, the WRSETA invited other retailers to witness a lecturer feedback session, with the aim of simulating a conversation about not only what Woolworths is doing, but what kind of programmes we can implement collectively as an industry,” said Antoni.
Education Specialist at the College of Cape Town, Hester Carolissen, said Inside Retail gave her exposure to beneficial retail industry contacts for placement of their students and that previously her research for lectures was based only on theory, and not on any practical training.
“Woolworths was a very good case study. I’ve learnt a strong value system is part of Woolworths’ success story and that such a value system is integral to the operations of any business,” she said.
“This experience was invaluable. I am now able to apply my practical learnings in the classroom as case studies. What was impressive is Woolworths’ value chain consistency when it comes to quality control. The company is extremely committed to keeping the customer happy. Interestingly, they have a best practice in place which aims to put all fresh produce on the shelves no later than 24 hours after harvesting. It was inspiring to see how they set goals and then achieve them,” said Carolissen.
Woolworths’ commitment to quality control was consistently reinforced during the programme as the group was taken through the supply chain management process, from as early in the process as choosing the correct supplier, to the placement of the product on the store shelves.
“Woolworths’ health and safety compliance is highly commendable. This is a culture that needs to be instilled in every person working in the retail industry. We believe that all of our staff and students can benefit from similar training and exposure,” said Carolissen.
Occupational Programme Manager at Boland College, Alta Nel, said she derived great value from the experience, and that the effective target management systems in place at Woolworths provided great insight and learnings for her.
“It was fascinating to see the orchestrated integration of all levels within the company to ensure a quality product is available to the customer. From an organisational perspective, I was impressed by the systems in place. This is the learning that I want to ensure gets through to the students in the practical lessons, so that they know it takes a good organisational culture to ensure a successful retailer. It was impressive to see all of the Woolworths employees so positive about their work,” said Nel.
She insists that practical application is important in influencing student decisions to pursue careers in the retail industry.
“This practical experience assists us to bring theory to life, and to highlight all of the positive examples of how Woolworths runs their business as a best practice example in the retail industry,” said Nel.
Inside Retail targets educators in higher education through a week-long, embedded course where they gain practical experience of the retail value chain. Participating TVET colleges included the College of Cape Town, False Bay College, Northlink College, Boland College, and South Cape College; as well as CPUT.
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