Morrisons announced last month that it is to fund university places for up to 1,000 students a year, with the idea that they will become company managers.
The supermarket’s HR director for retail, Kim Roberts, explains: “We have a long history of people development and this programme came about as a result of the economic climate and the increase in university tuition fees coming up. The Futures Programme is an opportunity for people to enter at shopfloor level and get the business under their fingernails.”
Running this type of training scheme aims to improve the perception of retailing as a career, she adds. “Sometimes we’ve not done a great job at communicating the opportunities to people, so retail is probably still seen as not a great career compared with others,” she says. “Retail is a hard business and is very different to finance, for example, so people need to get used to it and feel comfortable with it.”
Students will spend six months on the shopfloor and then have the opportunity to do a foundation degree in conjunction with Bradford University. Roberts is keen to promote the idea that people can go “from shopfloor to top floor”, mirroring her own career, which started with a store role in 1986.
The Futures scheme aims to get people quickly to store manager level, as Morrisons needs more of these than ever as it expands. It is currently piloting convenience stores and is reported to be considering a bid for frozen food retail chain Iceland, although it refuses to confirm this.
Julian Bailey, head of media relations, says of the smaller shops: “We have a fair amount of confidence in the convenience stores and the initial signs are strong. It is difficult to say how much this will feed into recruitment and leadership needs, but could clearly be an area where we do need to grow our talent.”
Morrisons works with Leeds Metropolitan University on development programmes for senior leaders and is planning to extend this to department managers in a bid to “create the right environment for people to excel”, according to Roberts.
The supermarket also runs apprenticeships for about 250 butchers and bakers a year, something which it started more than 10 years ago, where students can gain an NVQ, now known as a QCF. It also offers all 100,000 staff the chance to do a vocational qualification and says 84,000 have signed up so far.
While training people “is an investment in the tens of millions of pounds” each year, Roberts says the scheme is worth it. “We are known as a fresh-food retailer, which is our unique selling point. We make more food in store than any of our competitors, but also have product knowledge and can advise on how to cook,” she explains. “A lot of companies are having to reduce their spend in training, whereas we are in the fortunate position where we don’t have to.”
Morrisons will continue to invest in future, she claims, as it feels that training provides a competitive edge that can ensure not only the brand’s survival but expand its reach.
Roberts says: “It is good, sensible economics in terms of investing in our people now and for the longer term. We see it as an investment, not a cost.”