A guest contribution from Steve Radford, CEO, Fieldstar
With the launch of the Asda programme the UK now has 2 accreditation programmes for third-party merchandisers working within grocery multiple retailers (the other being operated by Sainsbury’s). But are they fit for purpose?
Well I suppose that depends on what you believe their purpose is. From the little information that’s in the public domain I believe the objectives of both programmes could be summarised with two words, ‘control’ and ‘compliance’; to control who can visit their stores and to ensure those who do visit comply with the retailers’ way of working whilst they’re there. So rather than asking whether they’re fit for purpose, I think the question should be are they enough? I believe the answer is a resounding no.
From what I understand, neither programme seeks to improve, examine or accredit the skill set of external merchandisers, nor do they seek to improve or accredit merchandiser knowledge beyond that required for the merchandiser to comply with their individual ways of working. This isn’t a criticism of these programmes; it simply isn’t what they’ve been created to do. But we’re an industry that’s dependent entirely on the performance of people in the field, and we ignore their broader learning and development needs at our peril.
That’s not to say that agencies are ignoring a broader agenda, but in my experience agency delivered training programmes tend to fall largely into two camps; in-house programmes focussed largely on procedural knowledge (how to work with that specific agency) or task specific programmes (how to work on a specific campaign). Very occasionally you’ll see a broader knowledge and skill based programme, but where these do exist they tend to be client /brand specific. This isn’t surprising as they are hugely expensive to develop and deliver (both in terms of time and financial investment) and with relatively high rates of staff churn, strategic investment in company-wide staff development programmes can be hard for an agency to justify. So they are often only implemented with a client’s direct support.
So as an industry what we’ve ended up with are individual training programmes that are separated into agency-specific, brand-specific and now retailer-specific silos. Whilst this is arguably both understandable and necessary, as an industry there’s an opportunity for us to be much more effective. Not to replace what currently exists, but to supplement it with an over-arching framework that’s focussed on long-term development of transferable skills.
With the absence of another body working in this area FieldStar is working with Derby University to create exactly this, a flexible learning pathway that promotes continued professional development at all levels of our industry, and provides structured learning opportunities that are accessible by agencies, individuals and brands alike. Consider this your invitation to get involved.