Aldi is paying university graduates more than dentists, doctors and engineers.
The German discount supermarket has opened applications for its 2019 graduate program, with 16 positions available across NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT on a starting salary of A$87,000 ($93,000).
That's more than any of the careers with the highest starting salaries in the country. According to Graduate Careers Australia's 2015 report, dentistry and optometry had a median starting salary of A$80,000, followed by medicine on A$65,000, education on A$61,000, and engineering, earth sciences and mathematics on A$60,000.
"I joined the Aldi graduate program in 2016 after studying Law and Commerce at the University of Notre Dame," area manager Caitlin Gallagher said in a statement released by Aldi, which wants to position the industry as a viable career path and debunk the notion that retail is only for part-time jobs.
"While I was at university, I had a friend who worked at Aldi. I had the opportunity to not only watch his career evolve, but build a career path I didn't even know existed. After I graduated from university, I looked into the program. The role was really appealing to me ... so I applied and joined."
At the end of the 18-month training program, graduates take on the role of area manager — a position which attracts more than 9000 applications a year — responsible for running three to five stores.
The position comes with a company car, an iPhone and five weeks' annual leave. After five years, graduates have the opportunity to increase their salary to A$155,000 including superannuation.
Gallagher said the program was a "comprehensive 18-month course in everything Aldi, where you learn about all the departments and how the business works from the ground up".
"You start by working in the stores to learn how the shop floor operates and the importance of teamwork," she said.
"You also spend time in the Sydney head office rotating through different departments learning about quality assurance, logistics, property management and corporate buying, just to name a few.
"Another great aspect of the program is the training provided on developing your leadership skills. Aldi has a unique management system that provides principles to help guide us on how we should lead and develop our own teams.
"Graduates also work with area managers and mentors who show you everything you need to know for when you complete the program and move onto the next level. The graduate program allows you to develop a broader understanding of both the Aldi business, and the retail industry and in particular develop your leadership skills."
Gallagher said she definitely saw a long-term future at the supermarket. "I've watched numerous colleagues move into a variety of different roles within the business," she said.
"There are many interesting and exciting opportunities to pursue within Aldi, so I definitely see myself staying long-term."
To be eligible, applicants must be in their final year of study or have recently completed a bachelor's or master's degree in any discipline and demonstrated "academic excellence".
Graduates must be flexible enough to relocate throughout the state during the training and placement period.
The process consists of an online application — closing this Sunday 18 March — a video interview and psychometric testing, an individual interview and an area manager session. Offers of employment go out in May, with the program commencing in February 2019.
Earlier this year, Aldi said it looked for professionals from all sectors to run its retail stores, with 42 per cent of area managers coming from non-retail backgrounds, and 24 per cent consisting of former scientists, engineers, teachers, IT experts and psychologists.
"Our area managers have an enormous influence on the management and direction of our business, and are one of the key leadership roles we have," James Buonopane, corporate finance and administration director at Aldi Academy, said at the time. "Most of our top leaders today started their careers as area managers."
Last year, former lawyer and Aldi area manager Kelly Wells revealed how she made the decision to leave the legal industry to work in retail — the second-largest employment sector in Australia — describing it as "one of the best things" she had ever done.
In October, new figures showed Aldi taking a bigger slice of the A$100 billion supermarket sector, further eating into the market share of IGA and Foodland with its expansion into South Australia and WA.
IBISWorld's supermarket report put market share for Aldi on 8.6 per cent and Metcash on 7.5 per cent, compared with 7.9 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively 12 months earlier. Woolworths holds 36.8 per cent of the market, followed by Coles on 30.9 per cent.
While Aldi consistently receives high scores in independent employee satisfaction surveys, some former checkout workers and managers have described how employees are required to meet strict performance quotas, such as scanning 1000 items per hour or unloading a certain number of pallets, or face the sack.