Graduate: Time to talk shop: Retailing has come of age. It now offers graduates a variety of specialist career paths - from food technology to finance, says Philip Schofield

RETAILING, which used to be the poor relative among graduate careers, is now seen to offer interesting challenges in store management, and a variety of specialist jobs in areas such as finance, merchandising, information technology, buying, marketing and food technology.

Kate Tyzack, head of recruitment at Marks & Spencer and chairman of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says: 'The retail world is constantly changing, in operating methods, merchandise presentation and ways of selling - so just when you think you've caught up, it all changes again. That's tremendously stimulating and exciting. Also, and this sounds trite, sending a customer away truly satisfied is a fantastic feeling.'

The intellectual challenges of retailing resulted in the creation in 1983 of a Masters in business administration in retailing and wholesaling at Stirling University. Participating companies have included B & Q, Boots, Kwik Save, Marks & Spencer, John Menzies, Next, Selfridges, Tesco and W H Smith.

The first companies to recruit graduates regularly for retail management were John Lewis and Marks & Spencer in the Sixties. However, graduates have not replaced school-leavers completely. 'Most retailers seek graduates in conjunction with A-level school- leavers,' Ms Tyzack says. 'The expectation is that graduates will progress faster because they've done some of their maturing. But the training process will be similar.'

She says this two-pronged approach applies to store management. The approach for more specialist functions in retail head office is different. 'Retailers tend to be centralised operations, and the large ones base their expertise in one site. So there's not just retail management in stores but also a whole range of professions and skills required . . . people such as food technologists, operational research people, textile technologists, lawyers, IT professionals. . . .'

The Dixons Stores Group, with more than 850 Dixons and Currys stores, recruits graduates and school- leavers as trainee stores managers. However, Peter Bathmaker, personnel director, says: 'If we're looking for young people who can use their brains and manage people, they're likely to be going through the degree route. Some still come with A-levels, but we get few people of the quality we need through that channel.'

The same approach is also found in smaller retail operations, but these are more likely to expect employees to demonstrate success in store management before they progress to head office in specialist roles.

Ronnie Flax, retail director of Tie Rack, says: 'Graduates, with few exceptions, go into the stores as trainees. We don't make any promises, such as, 'eventually you are going into marketing or PR'. We say, 'you are going to work in the stores, and in due course we'll see what route your career within the company is going to take'. Many stay in store management.

'But a bright, capable graduate who has not got far on the managerial ladder within a year isn't going to have a career.'

As well as a sense of humour, Ms Tyzack seeks 'initiative, assertiveness, awareness of impact on other people, teamwork, flexibility and leadership'.

Mr Bathmaker says: 'Intellectually, running a retail branch isn't terribly challenging. You need a general level of functional intelligence, but we're tending to look for a person who is capable of leading a team, wants to deal with customers . . . and enjoys the sociable side of the job.'

Dixons also has a scheme for those with high intellect and the potential to become directors within 10 years.

Among changes Ms Tyzack believes will affect graduate careers in retailing are 'flatter management structures; the massive influx of information technology, so there is less processing of information and more taking action on information produced automatically; and new ways of shopping'.

Retailing is also demanding more of people. According to Mr Bathmaker: 'Competition means prices and margins will carry on being squeezed, so there's going to be more personal pressure to meet targets.'

Graduates choosing retailing employers are fortunate, Ms Tyzack says, because 'you can go and sample what it's like, visit half a dozen, see the 'customer interface', talk to people working there and ask to meet management staff'.

Organisations offering education and training courses relevant to retailing are listed in Careers in Retailing (fourth edition 1993) by Loulou Brown (Kogan Page).

ED WALKER graduated from Sheffield Business School in 1992 with a degree in International Business with Spanish. He is a commercial management trainee with Marks & Spencer in Birmingham and hopes to manage his own branch in five to eight years.

'I'd worked part-time with Marks & Spencer during my college years, so had an insight into the business. It just captured me in terms of training and career development, and Marks & Spencer itself appealed to me as a quality company.' His degree course included a year working in Madrid on a project for a leading retailer. On graduation he inquired about joining Marks & Spencer in Spain, but it recommended building up a basic knowledge of the British retail business first.

The training programme has three stages. 'The first 10 to 12 months involves commercial attachments on the sales floor. During this stage you become a supervisor of a section or department. I started on menswear and then foods. The important thing is learning by doing the job.'

The programme includes formal courses. This week Mr Walker is on a management skills development course in Melton Mowbray. He will soon start stage two of his programme, which lasts four to six months.

'After attachment to an assistant manager, I'll become responsible for an area of the store as an assistant manager. For stage three, I'll have a week or so on attachment with a commercial manager, an admin manager and a personnel manager.' He can then expect his first appointment as an assistant manager.

'The job satisfaction and the pace of retailing are the most rewarding things. You can have an idea, put something into action and see the results immediately.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on