Whenever you get retail bosses such as Charlie Mayfield, Theo Paphitis, Justin King and Ian Cheshire all in one room, there is bound to be something interesting going on.

They and about 200 others congregated at the end of April to celebrate the launch of the National Skills Academy (NSA) for Retail, a potentially huge step forward in the way retail skills training is carried out.

Speaking at the launch, John Lewis Partnership chairman Charlie Mayfield insisted that skills are not in short supply in UK retail, but said that until now, the sector has been missing a clear and well-structured framework for training.

“We have some of the best retailers in the world. It’s a sector where the UK genuinely does have first-class skills. We are passionate about retail and we care about our sector, and we all want to see simplified routes to qualifications,” he said.

The nationwide network of skills shops that the scheme is creating will provide retailers with access to a wealth of well-trained professionals to recruit. These drop-in centres will provide job-seekers with guidance and training, including a chance to gain the newly launched Diploma in Retail Business.

Each job-seeker will be given access to a variety of organisations at a local level, including retailers, developers, training providers and Jobcentre Plus, to deliver the training and provide a link between candidates and employers. At present there are 18 such shops throughout the country. The plan is to have 70 up and running in five years’ time.

Speaking to Retail Week at the event, Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire said that the scheme will enable retailers to maximise the value they get from recruitment. “It’s a way to get more bang for their training buck. Retailers need to realise that this is their gateway to finding trained staff,” he said.

One particularly notable aspect of the NSA for Retail, Cheshire added, is the extent to which retailers – a competitive breed by nature – have put aside their rivalry and collaborated on its creation, having advised Skillsmart on what they wanted from the academy.

With this scheme, when those recruits who have benefited from academy training start work at a retail business, they will already
be trained in the skills they need. As such, initial training investment costs required by the retailer will
be reduced. “The amount of time and money we’ve wasted in the past in reinventing the wheel could have been used in a much more useful and efficient way like this,” said Cheshire.

It is still early days for the NSA, but if retailers embrace it now and the Government continues to support the scheme as it has promised, people may well look back at last week’s launch as a turning point in the development of retail training.