Saturday, March 29, 2008

Honing Talent

Retail wants employees with the right soft skills

Sanjay Jog, HR head, Pantaloon Retail
“ Recruitment is no problem. The problem is the necessary attitude.”

The cash registers are ringing, but it’s har-dly music to the man behind the counter. The annual entry-level median salary in the sector ranges from Rs 1.5 lakh in the South to Rs 3.11 lakh in the North. If we count out the salaries in the North, the entry-level median salary in the sector is the lowests among all the 12 sectors in the survey. The wide variance between the South and the North can be attributed to the higher number of lifestyle stores in the North where front-end employees need more spit and polish, and, hence, are paid higher.

As in manufacturing, 80 per cent of the employees in retail work on the front-end and get paid low salaries. The sector is considered the last refuge of the unemployed, since a high educational qualification is not a necessary precondition; in fact, most of the employees currently in retail are not graduates.

Recruitment is not a problem for the sector; most of the brands in the sector are well known, so walk-in interviews are the norm. “Recruitment is no problem,” says Sanjay Jog, chief people officer at Pantaloon Retail. “We get enough people. The problem is the attitude which is a necessary thing in a service industry like ours.” Employees require rigorous training, particularly in soft skills, given their poor education and low socio-economic background. This creates some unique problems for the companies. “Most of the employees in the sector come from a lower socio-economic background, and their encounter with consumption economy creates a problem of self-esteem,” says the human resources (HR) head of a large retail group.

Since most companies in the sector are doubling their employee strength every year, training becomes a key HR operation in a company. As retail is a new industry, it is investing a fair amount to provide diplomas and degrees in retail management to its management staff.

For retail, expansion is an opportunity as well as a challenge. Currently, a substantial part of the revenues of the retail chains is coming from the top 10 cities, but they are slowly and steadily moving towards tier II and tier III towns. Here they will face a new challenge of training their employees. Companies also have to recruit employees from the local community, as they want their employees to reflect the language skills of the community being served by the stores.

The sector is generous with its benefits but it does not provide stock options across all levels, nor does it provide leave travel allowance or house rent across the industry.

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