Skills shortages in the wholesale and retail sector as well as unemployment amongst underprivileged youths are being addressed by Retail Relate and its partner stores.
Retail Relate is a South African institution that provides SETA-accredited training relevant to the retail sector. Essential Hardware, Pep, TFG, Midas among other retail groups have partnered with Retail Relate on two of its projects – last year’s Unemployed Youth Assistance Project and this year’s Rural Youth Project – providing internship opportunities for those undergoing training by Retail Relate.
The wholesale and retail sector currently employs almost 20 percent of South Africa’s workforce – almost three million people. Yet, imbalances in the demand and supply of labour, as well as serious skills shortages, paint a potentially bleak picture for the future of this sector.
“The retail sector needs an estimated 42 000 managers alone to meet growth demands. Our role is to devise strategies to turn this scenario around by providing relevant training to this sector,” Blochlinger said. A retail industry veteran of 38 years, Blochlinger brings valuable insights into what is needed resource wise to ensure sustainable growth of this sector.
A recent analysis by the Wholesale and Retail SETA found that less than six percent of those employed within this sector hold a tertiary qualification and even more worryingly, almost 53 percent do not even have a matric certificate. Furthermore, Further Education and Training Colleges feel that their offerings do not adequately address the skills shortages manifesting in the wholesale and retail industry. It was also found that there are very few programmes at other formal higher education institutions that are dedicated to preparing students for employment in the retail sector.
Although seriously affected by the economic downturn, recruitment in the wholesale and retail sector is showing signs of stabilisation. “The problem is that skills shortages are resulting in a limited supply of labour – very paradoxical when one looks at the country’s unemployment statistics,” said Blochlinger.
“What’s needed, for a start, is adequate training and education facilities and opportunities for would-be job candidates to gain experience. Beyond that, it has become vital for business owners to invest in strategic long-term planning, in order to combat a possible skills crisis and to ensure the ongoing profitability of their businesses.”
Last year, Retail Relate rolled out its Unemployed Youth Assistance Project. This 12-month programme provided training and practical experience for 214 interns from Gauteng.The learnership went extremely well with only a 10 percent drop off rate – 4 percent due to permanent employment. A graduation ceremony will be held on March 22 for those who successfully completed the course.
“We have now turned our attention to the young people living in the rural areas, where extreme poverty is stifling the great potential of these youngsters to make a good living for themselves and a meaningful contribution to the country’s economy,” said Leigh Blochlinger, who heads up Retail Relate.
The aim of the Rural Youth Project is to adequately equip its learners to be quality retail managers and store owners, through interactive theoretical training funded by the Wholesale and Retail SETA, and on the job training supplied by the managers of participating stores. This project not only empowers rural youth, but also addresses the specific skills shortages in the Wholesale and Retail sector.
The programme has just been rolled out in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the North West and the Northern Cape, where a total of 502 rural youth will receive training in 2012.
Once the 12-month programme has been successfully completed, the learner will qualify for an NQF 5 Management certificate and will have a full year’s working experience. “The programme could even facilitate entrepreneurial opportunities, as the training and experience will equip the learners to start their own business ventures,” Blochlinger said.
Funding from the Wholesale and Retail SETA, as well as partnerships with retailers, make it possible for those who cannot afford to pay for tertiary education to become valuable future employees.
Though the Rural Youth Programme has barely begun, the Retail Relate team is wasting no time in continuing to educate and empower more rural youth. Plans are in place to roll the project out in more provinces. “We also plan to boost participation in the current rural areas by offering an NQF 3 qualification and skills programmes for the informal retail sector,” Blochlinger said.