The most talked-about challenge in the business of retail is the availability of ‘trained/skilled manpower’. However, when Indiaretailing dug deeper to discover the root cause, it found that though retail schools are mushrooming across the country, they probably do not have a commensurately well-qualified staff to train the aspiring retail professionals.
Schools either depend on occasional visitors from the corporate retail world or on short-term internship tie-ups with retail companies to get the students trained.
Numerous retail companies have also launched their own retail training institutes, but then, they too need permanent trained staff.
Speaking to Indiaretailing, NP Sinha, dean, Institute of Management Excellence (IME), said: “With the retail boom in the country, various management institutes have introduced numerous courses on retail, but these courses are being taught by general management teachers. These teachers have never gained any practical experience and thus deliver a theoretical overview to the students.”
Calling the present structure ‘biased academics’, Sinha held that the country’s retail education is being driven by textbook knowledge. “This course specifically requires trained industry professionals with experience in retailing on the floors. Textbook knowledge can never guide a student to be a future retailer,” he said.
Citing solutions, Sinha said that the institutes must revive their pay structure to rope in trained retail professionals to teach. Teaching should be made as lucrative as a corporate job. “Corporates, obviously, pay more than the schools; hence, an experienced professional will always prefer working for a retailer than teach retailing.”
Speaking about their faculty, Shankar Sahay, associate professor, Institute of Apparel Management (IAM), said, “We have professionals from the industry as ‘visiting lecturers’; besides, we also have our own extensive team of qualified and experienced teachers.”
The course coordinator at All India Management Association (AIMA) said that their faculty members are from a professional background and have considerable exposure to the subject.
However, none of the institutes could satisfactorily explain how much relevant industry experience their faculty have.
What do retailers say?
Answering Indiaretailing’s queries, it seemed that retailers, as of now, are fine with the training imparted to the aspiring retail professionals.
The spokesperson at Major Brands India Ltd said: “We look forward to these schools as the students have basic knowledge of modern retail. We recruit them for various backend and front-end jobs after the completion of their courses.” However, the person added that they do have to train the recruited students as they lack much practical knowledge.
Pantaloon Retail India Ltd has also been looking forward to these schools for recruiting people in its chains. Rajan Malhotra, CEO, Big Bazaar, said, “We have strategic tie-ups with various institutes, and we recruit students from these schools in our chain. They are already trained and can easily handle the backend jobs.”
At this point, the state and quality of retail education may be said to be going parallel with the growth of the retail industry itself, though it is not necessarily in sync. A close observer might suggest that the critical manpower shortage makes it more urgent than ever that retail education graduate from being a mere ‘academic’ exercise. Perhaps, a more practical solution in the immediate term will be for closer linkages with corporate houses to set up pools of dedicated ‘faculties’.
– Satrajit Sen