Shaking things up: The new Diploma in Retail

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The Independent Online

In the drive to bring education and employment closer together, the new Diploma in Retail is a huge leap forward.

Have you ever wondered how the subjects you study can actually help you get a job? Well, you’re not alone. All too often, going to school or college can seem a million miles from the things you will do in the world of work, especially if all your time is spent in the classroom.

It’s an unfortunate fact that, after finishing education, many young people end up starting a career without knowing what to expect or the skills they need to do their jobs properly. The good news is that things are set to change. Big name retailers such as, Boots, John Lewis, House of Fraser and Sainsbury’s have come together to help create a new qualification for 14- to 19-year-olds that will help those interested in careers in the retail sector and its supply chain.

Billed as the biggest shake-up for education since the introduction of GCSEs and A-levels, the Diploma in Retail is part of the new range of diploma qualifications being developed that will also cover the engineering, business, languages and creative industries. Like GCSEs and A-levels, these diplomas will prepare you academically for university or further education, but will also let you keep your options open, ensuring you are ready for employment.

How does it work?

There are three levels of the Diploma in Retail: Foundation (equivalent to five GCSEs), Higher (equivalent to seven GCSEs) and Advanced (equivalent to three-and-a-half A-levels). Each level includes English, maths and ICT but develops these skills in a retail context, such as a high street store. The diploma also includes an element of personal learning that will help your employment chances, such as teamworking and self-management skills. The real ace in the pack, however, is the time spent out of the classroom. You get to put what you have learned to the test in a workplace that interests you. By combining classroom study with hands-on experience in your favourite fashion house or music store, you get all the knowledge and skills you need to progress into further education or work in an exciting, creative and enjoyable way.

What about GCSEs and A-levels?

You will be able to include GCSEs and A-levels as part of the Diploma in Retail or you can take completely separate subjects alongside it. Importantly, it gives you choice and flexibility to find out more about the topics you want, which means you can broaden your study by including more specialised subjects. For example, if you wanted to work in the fashion side of retail, you could study GCSE or A-level textile technology, or – if international retail buying is more your thing – you could do a GCSE or A-level in languages alongside the diploma.

What’s all the fuss about?

Many big name retailers have contributed to the content of the course, so you can be sure that what you are learning is up to date and relevant. The diploma also covers the retail supply chain, meaning areas of interest such as fashion, automotive design and manufacture give the qualification greater depth and a broad reach amongst young people. Although it may be academically demanding at times, everything is taught in a practical way. To keep students informed and give them a full grasp of the industry, there will also be classroom masterclasses by retail professionals and visits to workplaces.

When does it start?

It is still in its planning stage but, come September 2013, the diploma will be launched across all schools and colleges in England. It will, however, be trialled in 2010, which means if you are starting your GCSEs now, you may be able to take the Level 3 Diploma in Retail in two years. Check with your school or college to see if they are running trials.