Retailers prioritise graduate recruitment over school leavers, but at what cost? By Liz Morrell

Retailers could be missing out on a valuable pool of talent by focusing too heavily on graduates for their management trainee programmes, according to research from talent management firm SHL.

In its poll of 1,000 recent graduates and 350 graduate recruiters, 40% of students said that, had they been faced with the £9,000 fees that will come into force next year, they wouldn’t have gone to university.

As a result, those retailers who don’t ensure they put a similar emphasis on school leaver programmes could be missing out. The research by SHL found that while a third of retailers are now considering school leavers for graduate roles and 47% expect to consider them in the future, 61% did not have any specific programme in place to recruit such a demographic.

As well as being able to attract such students retailers also needed to be able to train and retain them. “Retailers should be looking to get the talent earlier,” says Sean Howard, vice-president of marketing at SHL.

At Arcadia, the retailer runs a retail management trainee programme tailor-made for post A-level or equivalent students. It believes that because university is not suited to everyone, an alternative should be offered. “While graduates provide a rich talent pool for Arcadia we recognise that our future retail stars can also be found among school leavers too and so run specific training programmes to attract school leavers, as well as graduates, to Arcadia,” an Arcadia spokesperson said. The scheme includes  development workshops and training.

Tesco offers a trainee management programme for A-level equivalent students and ran a management programme last year to attract 16-year-olds to the retailer with a scheme that would see recruits gain three A-level equivalents during their two years training which leads to the trainee management scheme.

SHL’s research showed that even among the overwhelming number of applications retailers are getting from graduates, they are letting valuable talent slip through their fingers. Howard refers to what he calls “lazy sifts” – those wading through a pile of applications might discount all those who achieved less than a 2:1 degree.

At a time when securing the best retail talent is vital, retailers must ensure all channels are open. “Research shows that 43% of graduate recruiters think work experience is important and we are seeing more graduates working unpaid for up to six months, which means a leaning towards richer people,” says Howard.

It’s good to question recruitment policies, so is the possession of a degree for future recruits a necessary luxury or simply a luxury?

Graduate Facts

The findings of SHL’s poll of graduates and recruiters

  • 40% of students would not have gone to university if they had had to pay tuition fees
  • 33% of retailers are considering school leavers for graduate roles
  • 47% expect to consider them in the future
  • 61% did not have any specific programme in place to recruit such a demographic