The UK's second biggest supermarket, Asda, today unveiled plans to create some 5,000 jobs this year in a £500 million expansion drive.
Its plans, which were welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron, will see it open 25 stores, refurbish 43 existing outlets and invest in three new depots in 2012.
The chain said it will create up to 5,000 jobs on top of the 30,000 staff it took on last year when it opened about a dozen stores and absorbed 147 Netto sites and their staff following its acquisition of the discount chain.
Asda said nearly half of the jobs it created last year had gone to young people, who are currently battling high unemployment, while 8,500 jobs went to people who had signed up through Job Centre Plus.
The chain, which currently employs more than 180,000 people and runs 528 stores across the UK, also pledged that eligible employees would be given the chance to take City & Guilds apprenticeships.
Mr Cameron said: “The additional investment and 5,000 new jobs announced by Asda today will be a real boost for the economy and more importantly for people around Britain seeking jobs.
“I also welcome Asda's commitment to not only create jobs but invest in their staff too - offering employees the chance to join an apprenticeship scheme to gain skills which will benefit them throughout their career.”
The majority of the new stores will be smaller supermarkets but the 600,000sq ft of new space will also be made up of superstores and Asda Living non-food outlets.
Asda, which is owned by the world's biggest retailer, US-based Walmart, will also open a new depot in Rochdale, replace a depot in Grangemouth, Falkirk, to serve Scotland and Northern Ireland, and revamp a centre in South Elmsall, Yorkshire, which formerly belonged to Netto.
It has already opened a store in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, this year but also plans outlets in Bootle in Merseyside, Coventry, Gateshead in Tyne & Wear, Harworth in Nottinghamshire, Mitcham in London, Ramsgate in Kent, Shepshed in Leicestershire, Todmorden in West Yorkshire, Worcester, and Worthing in West Sussex.
Its plans for Scotland will see it open stores in Inverness and Tain in the Highlands, and Larkhall in South Lanarkshire.
And in Wales it will open a store in Bangor.
Asda, which has pledged to be 10% cheaper than rivals amid a vicious supermarket price war, recently reported that customers were shopping less frequently but spending more in a bid to overcome high petrol prices.
Its most recent like-for-like sales figures, excluding VAT and fuel, increased by 1.3% between July 1 and September 30. But it has yet to update on the Christmas period, that saw rival Tesco issue a profits warning.