Organized modern retail creates a flurry for talent in India

SkillingIndia on November 23, 2012 Comments
Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India (RAI) chats with

Retail exists wherever customers exist,” says Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India.

Here are the excerpts of the interview:

SkillingIndia: What are the present challenges that the Indian organized retail sector is facing in terms of skill development? 

Kumar Rajagopalan: Organized modern retail is new to India. This has created a flurry for talent in retail across all levels. Many retail companies have significant number of employees who are very new to retail. This is the case across levels of management and at front end of stores. We have also observed that even senior people in retail are also not inducted to scientific retail methods. This has impacted efficiency in some companies in terms of labour productivity. The speed of expansion over the last three years has also created an urgency to get people employed at the front end. The other challenge, which is the corollary effect, is that employee turnover for this sector is high. Various members of RAI have realized the need for creating skill programs based on National Occupation Standards. While employee turnover in a fast growing industry is given, the way to tackle this would be to create a continuous flow of talent for the industry. Thankfully India has enough manpower. However, they are not skilled and this can be bridged by creating standards based training and certification.

SkillingIndia: Which training interventions in your view can bridge the gap between the demand and supply of a skilled workforce in this sector?

Kumar Rajagopalan: There are various kinds of jobs in retail which require different kinds of training. These jobs include front end operations, supply chain management, buying and merchandising, visual merchandising, space and infrastructure management, customer relationship management and analytics etc. These jobs differ depending on the kind of categories that the retailers deal in and the channels that the retailers are present in. Hence, while the brick and mortar retailer would concentrate on customer centric front end service levels, the online channel requires the ability to create systems so as to deliver to customers as per expectations. Various contracted workforce in the retail eco-system also need due training. For example, the security at stores, the parking assistants, the stacking help inside supermarkets, the people responsible for cleanliness and upkeep etc. too need service oriented training.

SkillingIndia: Any specific pedagogical approaches that you recommend for quicker skill development?

Kumar Rajagopalan: The best method of ensuring that retail business functions un-interrupted and people get skilled is to create a variety of on the job training processes. Also, creation of and adhering to occupation standards based training program can help in creating talent for retail which is replaceable. This will help in getting the job done efficiently though there may be high employee turnover. The industry also needs to think in terms of well-structured recognition and rewards methods. One such example is celebration of Retail Employees Day on the 12th of December every year. This day is the day many retailers are now earmarking for celebrating good service standards by employees, creating recognition time and taking time to thank employees for their customer centricity.

SkillingIndia: What are the current initiatives Retailers Association of India (RAI) has in place or is coming up with to assist the retail industry in this path?  

Kumar Rajagopalan: RAI works with various members and stakeholders to create relevant training modules for retail businesses. RAI has also set up a subsidiary, a sector skill council for retail called Retailers Association’s Skill Council of India (RASCI). This company has been under NSDC. We also do a BBA in retail in alliance with IGNOU to enable people in retail to acquire relevant graduation in retail while being on the job. Many students study retail management courses with management institutes across the country and these courses have been created by RAI to create specialized personnel for retail. Many employees in retail businesses enroll into RAI programs for special skills like store operations, buying and merchandising etc.  Many of these are possible since members of RAI collaborate to structure the course curriculum and also help by sending relevant faculty. Many of these have been devised by the HR committee of RAI which comprises of leading HR heads from retail businesses in the country. All the programs devised by the HR committee of RAI ensure that employees can learn while they earn and vice- versa. Also, all programs supported by RAI and its members are devised to bring in global retail knowledge with local retail acumen.

SkillingIndia: With global retail giants entering Indian market space, which skills should people focus on to get employment in this sector and why?  

Kumar Rajagopalan: Global companies do require professionally trained retail talent. The kind of talent required may vary more because of the kind of retailer rather than merely because they are international retailers. All global retailers follow retail based on retail as a science and an art and not just an art. This ability to absorb global retail standards from buying and merchandising to store operations will be better augmented by a tie up of these organizations with local colleges.

SkillingIndia: As organized retail sector is expanding, how is it impacting the unorganized retail sector especially in terms of demographics?

Kumar Rajagopalan: Retail exists wherever customers exist. While the metros are definitely filled with modern retail businesses, smaller cities and towns too have potential for retail growth. Employment in retail would depend on the kind of job and the capabilities of the prospective employees. Retail is also a true inclusive growth driver as retailers employ people with different abilities and educational and financial backgrounds. Many retailers also employ people with disabilities. Unorganized sector of retail also have to think in terms of giving a better work environment which includes training, empowerment and recognition if they have to retail good talent. This many a times automatically is leading to many in the unorganized sector opting to get organized. Many of the issues for unorganized retailers starts at home since their own more educated children are clearly seeking a more organized place to work in or they opt to get out of the family’s unorganized business.

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