A scheme that promises to overhaul the way retail skills training is delivered was unveiled last night at an event attended by some of the industry’s top names.

Retailers at the launch of the National Skills Academy

As part of the National Skills Academy for Retail, which was officially launched last night, a network of skills shops have been set up that will train young people to a recognised retail qualification level. The skills shops will also provide a gateway for retailers to gain access to candidates that have been through the training programme.

The scheme has received the backing of some of the UK’s top retailers, including Kingfisher chief executive Ian Cheshire, John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield and Ryman’s owner Theo Paphitis, who has agreed to act as its ambassador. Paphitis is also backing Skillsmart Retail’s apprenticeship scheme.

It has also benefited greatly from £7m of investment from the private sector much of which has come from retail. John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, House of Fraser, Waitrose and Boots have all provided financial backing.

Speaking at the event, John Lewis chairman Charlie Mayfield said: “This is a really exciting day. It’s a milestone for the retail sector. We are in the depths of a challenging time and now is the time to be investing in skills.”

As of yesterday’s launch, 18 skills shops have been set up around the country, which retailers can now access for advice and assistance in recruiting new staff to their stores. Job seekers will have access to retail apprenticeships and the newly launched Diploma in Retail Business. It is hoped the about 70 skills shops will be established over the next five years.