Retail is one of the fastest changing sectors in Singapore, with retailers contending with higher rentals and a labour crunch in addition to the intensifying competition. However, the pace of change does not always spell doom and gloom.
Retailers can mitigate the issues and seize growth opportunities if they invest in industry-relevant training programmes for their staff. They should view training as an investment, not a cost.
By raising their staff’s professionalism and capability, retailers are empowering them with new knowledge and skills to develop a quality and productive workforce. At the same time, their staff will find it rewarding to apply the new knowledge on the job, which improves job satisfaction as well as retailers’ ability to retain and attract talent.
Retailing should not be perceived as a low-skilled job. Besides excellent customer service skills and product knowledge, a good retailer needs to understand supply chain logistics, omni-channel marketing, merchandising, retail strategies and technological tools to keep abreast of the competition.
Offering industry-relevant programmes
The Retail Academy of Singapore (TRAS) was established in 2004, through the joint effort of the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) and government agency SPRING Singapore, as a platform for the world’s leading retail practitioners, academia and business owners to come together. A key focus of TRAS is to develop leaders at middle and senior levels of the retail organisation.
In order for its training to be effective in addressing industry realities, TRAS has to ensure a high degree of industry relevance in its programmes. TRAS also works closely with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA, SPRING Singapore, academic institutions and retail organisations to deliver programmes that provide up-to-date knowledge and skills, as well as international perspectives on specific areas of retail management.
For example, the TRAS Diploma in Retail Management is taught by local industry practitioners and the faculty from the University of Stirling’s Institute for Retail Studies to help participants integrate their retail experience with relevant retail concepts and international practices. This programme also includes a field trip to retail shops to provide practical insights into retail concepts.
One recent participant in this programme is M Azemi Jafar Sidek of Omnititan Venture. He was drawn to the idea that the programme would allow him to keep on learning in his profession of choice. He said: “It is never too old to keep learning.”
Expressing support for M Azeri’s decision to enrol in the diploma programme, his employer said: “It allows him to function more effectively in his present position by exposing him to the latest concepts, information and techniques, and helps him to further develop the skills required in the retail industry. It also prepares him for career progression and broadens his mind by providing him opportunities to inter-change experiences, within and outside.”
More than that, for retail professionals who wish to upgrade at the postgraduate level, TRAS has worked jointly with the SRA, SPRING Singapore and WDA to roll out the National Retail Scholarship (Masters) Programme. It targets practising retail managers, such as Lisa Chan, general manager, South-east Asia & Australia, Valentino Singapore, who has worked in retail for 20 years. She was a recipient of the National Retail Scholarship (Masters) in 2015.
“This industry is moving so fast that it requires every retailer to keep up and constantly reflect, improve and evolve, to learn to embrace changes and think about how to do better all the time,” she said.
Helping retailers stay relevant and competitive
In addition to raising professional standards and building rewarding careers, another pertinent challenge for retailers is to remain relevant in the marketplace.
It is no longer a standard bricks-andmortar business as retailers face increased competition from online shops and e-commerce. The younger generation today is more tech-savvy, and even older consumers are changing their purchasing habits and going online.
Nevertheless, the digital economy also creates new business opportunities for retailers. The retail workforce must therefore have the necessary skills, knowledge and capabilities to adapt and utilise technology, including the Internet.
To better prepare retailers to capitalise on opportunities in the digital economy, TRAS has developed masterclasses in social media and digital marketing, which are contextualised for the retail industry. Another instance of how TRAS has responded to industry needs can be seen in its timely introduction of a masterclass in the area of visual merchandising excellence.
TRAS and the Workforce Singapore (WSG) have brought in experts from leading logistics fulfilment company DHL to answer questions on bringing one’s business online through its specially curated programme, “Omni-channel e-commerce logistics for retail SMEs masterclass”. This masterclass also includes an exclusive tour of DHL’s Asia-Pacific Innovation Centre — DHL’s first dedicated centre for innovation in logistics services in Asia-Pacific, showcasing technologies that will transform logistics operations of businesses.
Another high-quality programme, “Strategic planning and management in retailing” (SPMR), is aimed at building up leadership and management capabilities of SMEs in Singapore. Led by Professors John Strong and Ron Hess, two of the most respected retail management educators in the US, the SPMR programme provides participants with tools to build better strategies and to improve financial performance and productivity.
Customised corporate training
TRAS works with retailers to provide customised training for their staff locally and regionally. It works with the various departments within the organisation to provide the training specifically catered to their requirements.
The trainer and the HR personnel and department head will meet to discuss the proposed training. The trainer will then develop the training material and deliver the programme. This method of arrangement of training will certainly have a positive impact on the company’s staff performance in terms of productivity and effectiveness.
For instance, Thai Minh Tuan, sales specialist, Adidas (Vietnam), attended the regional training organised by Adidas Singapore and delivered by TRAS facilitator, Andrew Cavanagh. He said: “It is a good training course. The facilitator has given a lot of good ideas and experience to broaden the knowledge of the attendees.”
TRAS commitments and blended learning
TRAS is currently developing “blended learning” of the Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) courses’ retail modules catering to the retail industry. This will provide retailers with the opportunity to upgrade staff skills and knowledge at their own time, place and pace — thus increasing staff productivity and efficiency.