Written by Paula Coughlan, Chief People, Communications and Sustainability Officer, Currys plc

May 12, 2022

Last week, I was invited to speak at the Future of Retail Summit to talk about leadership and developing talent. But as we started to plan the session, the host and I started to think about how we can position the retail industry so that it’s seen as an exciting career choice relative to other sectors.

When the delegates in the room were asked who had been recommended a career in retail at school, only a few hands were raised. So, this made me start to think about what could be done to change this, and I think there are a few issues or myths that need to be busted.

Firstly, that retail is just a job, not a career.

I am sure that many of you reading this worked in a shop of some kind when you were younger. It’s a first job for many. But it’s true that usually, people move on to other things once they finish school or university.

Perhaps it’s because people don’t realise that retail can offer so many rich and varied experiences. There are opportunities to work in supply chain, logistics, digital, buying and merchandising, brand and marketing, people, finance, customer service as well as retail store sales and leadership. When I think of progression, one of our Regional Managers, Mandip, has been with us for 27 years - started as a graduate trainee in a store but has progressed to store manager, HR business partner and Regional Manager. Retail offers a wide and rich variety of rewarding career paths, and I think we as an industry can do even more in communicating this.

The second myth around retail is that it is not well paid.

Well, I can’t speak for the whole industry, but at Currys, that is simply not the case. We value our capable and committed colleagues so highly that we have raised wages not once, but twice in the past year, going above and beyond the Real Living Wage. We recognise that there is a cost-of-living crisis and want to help support our amazing colleagues who are the magic ingredient in everything Currys is. We put our people at the heart of every decision we make as a business, and I think that is something truly special, and a critical component of any career choice. In fact, we are highly competitive in all areas of our business and our people at all levels enjoy access to performance-related bonuses and a wide-ranging benefits offer.

And it’s not just the actual pay, but the opportunity to develop skills that you get in retail which is in my opinion second to none. We invest millions into training and development, we have doubled down on skills and accelerated our strategy around expert face to face advice. Over the pandemic, when stores were closed, we invested in training over 8,000 colleagues on our new sales model, over half a million hours of learning. And in the last four years we’ve enrolled over 1,000 apprentices. We have 56 different types of apprenticeship programmes across the business, including more traditional - LGV driving, and retail management. But we've also got AI, data analysts and business analysts. We have programmes that offer degrees, and master and professional qualifications such as CiPD, and accounting CIMA qualifications.

Thirdly, there is a misconception that retail is not flexible as a career.

We have all had to be flexible through the pandemic, and this proved something that we already suspected - flexibility is not just good for business, it makes people happier too. The shift to online shopping rapidly accelerated during the pandemic.  Because we were classed as non-essential, overnight, customer demand switched from our stores to our website. Our contact centres saw a massive increase in queries. Our supply chain faced huge pressure. The challenges were enormous and our business had to adapt quickly. But it provided opportunities and created a culture of flexible talent movement – very quickly, around 700 colleagues were redeployed to customer service and nearly 3,000 colleagues were redeployed to ShopLive - our video-based online shopping service.

Flexibility also provides opportunities to learn more skills. When they are multi-skilled, colleagues can work flexibly across categories and multiple channels. This is not just great for colleagues, but better for the customer as well as the people serving them are where our customers are and are highly knowledgeable. Our ShopLive technology enables flexibility for colleagues - our night owls and twilight shifts work from home hosting online demonstrations and tutorials. Our customer service teams work flexibly, and there are hundreds in our contact centres who are set up and working successfully from home.

And at a corporate level, for office-based colleagues, we have just announced a new hybrid working policy and a move to WeWork offices in central London. We've done this because we listened really closely to what our people are telling us about how and where they want to work. As we've been listening to their views throughout the pandemic. And what we heard is that the current office set up was not enabling the creative, collaborative hub that supports our hybrid working ambitions.  The beauty of the approach is that it combines an attractive London-based location with a number of regional hubs, using existing store and distribution centre space, which enables our people to stay close to our customers.

In summary, we have an opportunity to work even harder to make people aware of how amazing a career in retail can be. It’s time for us to think differently. It’s more important than ever given the changing size and shape of the workforce and new battle for talent both globally and here in the UK. We know the demand for talent is exceeding supply. I think it’s up to all of us to paint an exciting picture of what a career in retail can look like. I would love to see the industry coming together on this issue, as I know that together, employing over 3m people, the stories we could tell and with our combined experience, we could really make a difference.