Literary ambition

At Waterstone's stores, a new initiative aims to retain graduates and help staff become the best sellers.

Waterstone's, the book lovers' book shop, has established a reputation as a book seller staffed by a well-educated, literate workforce. Buy a book in one of its 105 UK stores and chances are you'll be served by a graduate who, as often as not, has read the book you're buying along with a number of other titles by the same author.

Keeping this well-educated and articulate workforce loyal to the company and persuading them to stay longer than those on other retailers' shop floors, however, is a significant challenge. Which is the reason behind the introduction by Waterstone's of a new career development initiative: Personal Portfolio.

"A lot of people drift into Waterstone's through their love of books," Waterstone's human resources director Simon Jacobs explains. "That's fine, but we want to catch those people and change their expectations and motivations. We have a wide variety of strategic areas in which we hope to expand. We need managers. And we want to promote from within."

Waterstone's was launched in the Eighties with an aim to make book-buying simpler and more pleasurable. The shops aimed to offer the widest selection of titles in the most comfortable surroundings. Although a national chain, the idea was for a network of local specialists able to stock the titles each branch's immediate customers would want. An informed and authoritative staff were regarded as an integral part of this.

Today, the chain employs around 2,100 staff although as a number of these work on a part-time basis, this is equivalent to 1,500 full-time positions. Nine hundred of these work at book-seller level, 400 at senior book-seller level, 98 are assistant store managers and around the same number are store managers. The rest work in departmental management, administration and stock control.

Personal Portfolio's aim is to focus career development within the organisation and encourage more book-sellers - those working on the shop floor - to move up the ranks, eventually to assistant and brand manager level. The initiative coincides with a streamlining of Waterstone's employment hierarchy, removing interim levels such as departmental manager.

Participants will be encouraged to work through a five-stage training and career development process at the end of which they will be well-positioned to apply for assistant store manager positions, Mr Jacobs explains. The Portfolio provides a modular structure, allowing staff to log details of training and skills acquired. "The message is: `There is a career here, if you want it'," he says. "We have a policy of promoting from within."

Personal Portfolio offers participants a career plan for developing the management and personnel skills needed to move up within the organisation. Clear signposts direct them towards different training opportunities and log their progress. By Stage Five, Preparation for Management, an employee should be ready to move around the country and apply for an assistant management post.

At the same time, Waterstone's has also completed a review of its salary grades, which from the autumn will range from a basic starting rate of pounds 8,000 for a book-seller up to pounds 30,000 for a store manager running one of the chain's larger branches. Assistant managers' positions range from pounds 12,999 to pounds 19,000. All posts offer a pounds 2,300 up-weight for London and the South-east.

The scheme is welcomed by Aly Barr, 26, a senior book-seller in Edinburgh's East End branch of Waterstone's. "It will introduce a better structure to training. There's been a tendency towards learning by looking over people's shoulders and there are a lot of skills people have - like sign language or foreign language skills - others in the organisation don't know."

It should also be flexible enough to work according to individuals' needs, he adds. "One of the great things about working for Waterstone's is their emphasis on treating you like an individual. The work's interesting, the pay's OK and you get a lot of autonomy. In this branch, each member buys for their own sections and is responsible for promotion as well as, obviously, dealing with customer inquiries and taking sales."

The Personal Portfolio initiative, which goes live in October, is also an attempt to offer more competitive career opportunities than its rivals, Mr Jacobs adds. The chain had slipped behind a number of its competitors in terms of salaries, he concedes. "This is an attempt to re-establish more competitive rates and prospects to attract and keep the best candidates."

And with Waterstone's recently announced plans for further expansion - new Waterstone's superstores roll out in large British cities starting with Glasgow later this year - prospects for those considering a career with the company look brightn

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Commercial Property Surveyor

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading firms of Cha...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A keen Graduate Structural Engineer with...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital