As we cruise the aisles of The Warehouse, many of us will be unaware that the staff in red shirts ("Reds") around us are all in various stages of formal retail training.
They're either learning to be the best they can be in their current role, or working their way up through a retail learning pathway that can culminate in a managerial position earning more than a bank manager. Along with the Reds, Warehouse Stationery (Blues), Noel Leeming and Torpedo7 belong to The Warehouse group, and employees of all four businesses can now receive training at the new Sir Stephen Tindall Learning Centre at the group's Northcote headquarters.
Each of the training rooms has full-length windows, a fully equipped kitchen and break-out areas. Although 100 people can be trained at once, merchandise development specialist Catherine Paul explains that staff learn in small groups, which creates a safe environment in which to ask questions. She likes the touch technology on the projector screen, which allows her to be fluid in her teaching. The linkable audio-visual and wireless capability means remote training with the group's 12,000 team members is now possible.
Chief people officer Anna Campbell demonstrates a career pathway chart, which is "really clear, so new team members can easily see and understand what is required for each role, and the qualifications and training needed to step up".
Garth Cook, group learning and development manager, says that because quite often a role with The Warehouse group is a young person's first job, "really robust core training is provided at the start, along with the notion of culture", and says it's important that everything is of a professional standard.
"We know that unless training looks and feels professional, people won't value it."
In the store-based career pathway, the main aims for "start-ups" (new team members) are to be confident in their store, great at their job and with their customers, and to show personal leadership. Team members can work towards the nationally recognised New Zealand Certificate in Retail, Levels 2 and 3. Founder Sir Stephen Tindall presented recent graduates with their certificates at the centre's opening ceremony.
With those levels achieved, team members can then enter the Future Leaders Programme and step up through the roles of supervisor, team leader, and assistant store manager. The final step to store manager means a team member can lead a retail team to excellence, represent their store within the community, and has the ability to lead leaders.
A programme of learning consists of modules that include store-based, online and classroom training, with a handbook to work through. Each trainee is assisted by a higher-level team member - a buddy. When the module is complete, the buddy signs it off and updates the payroll.
Cook says, "That sign-off process means it's auditable by Service IQ and that allows us to offer qualifications for the training we've got. Ten years ago, we set about making our training robust enough to be auditable by a third party while still being user-friendly for the team, and now we're at that stage."
The group is committed to making retail a desirable career choice, and last year's introduction of the Career Retailer Wage was designed to help facilitate this. The group has always paid its employees more than the legal minimum wage (currently $14.25 an hour) and new team members start out earning around a dollar above minimum wage. The rate increases as they complete the required training for a role. By the time they've worked 5000 hours, qualifying members receive between $18 and $20 an hour.
The group recently took things a step further by funding a new chair at Massey University to facilitate New Zealand's first retail-focused degree - a Bachelor of Retail and Business Management, and has given 25 team members scholarships for the inaugural year.
Campbell says having a retail qualification will fundamentally shift peoples' perception. "It's really important to us for people to understand that retail is a fantastic career," she says.
Red team member Esther Masters of the Silverdale store started in the first intake of the degree in February and is studying by distance learning. "It's good," she says.
"Squeezing it all in with full-time work and kids is a juggle, but this week I've kind of got into the swing of things. I've worked in retail for 10 years so it was like, yay, something for it. A degree for it!"