A good fit for shoefayre

Ian Trennan, HR manager at Shoefayre, describes how a bespoke approach to
staff training is delivering good results for the national footwear retailer

Vocational training

Designed and delivered by: The Lexicon Group, Suite 3, Tudor
House, Coychurch Road, Bridgend CF35 5NS
Phone: 01656 645008
Fax: 01656 646152
e-mail: [email protected]

A bespoke vocational training programme developed over the past 18 months by
Shoefayre, in partnership with training provider, the Lexicon Group, is bearing

The broad aims of this scheme are to improve our overall skills level, while
increasing staff job satisfaction and morale.

High staff turnover is endemic in the retail sector, and the introduction of
this bespoke training programme is seen as a very clear way of signalling that
we care for our employees.

Earlier this year, the new scheme saw its first results, with the award of
NVQ and National Traineeship (NT) certificates – since replaced by the
Foundation Modern Apprenticeship – to three employees who had successfully
completed their training. This was seen as a major step in the roll-out of the
programme and was a major source of satisfaction to all involved in its

Shoefayre is a Co-operative Society, established in 1961. It operates 365
outlets throughout England, Scotland and Wales. With a workforce of about
3,000, the company has around 10 per cent of employees in formalised training
at any one time, mostly undertaking NVQ Levels 2 and 3.

In the past few years, our approach to training has been revised as part of
a company-wide programme of updating and culture change.

Under the new regime, Shoefayre’s training policy – previously largely
organised regionally – is now being brought under central control, with
multiple providers replaced by a single training and development organisation,
the Lexicon Group. This was necessary to bring consistency and equal
opportunities to staff across the organisation, as training had previously been
provided by up to 50 NVQ providers.


We also entered into a contract with the National Contracting Service (NCS).
This gave us a single point of contact for all NVQ funding and support in line
with government requirements, greatly simplifying our national training operation.

Basically, we felt our employees were not benefiting as they should and
Shoefayre was not getting the results it needed.

It was also the case that training was seen to be delivering qualifications
that were not wanted and at levels not required. Now we have a tight portfolio
of qualifications agreed with Lexicon and any variation to this has to be
agreed in advance.

Company values promote fair treatment of staff; an approach that we hope
will set us apart from other mainstream retailers. We wanted to create an
approach to training that enabled our people to get something out of the
process, rather than just a vocational programme that would satisfy the needs
of the business.

To achieve this, we built up a close working relationship with Lexicon in
jointly developing vocational training courses that satisfy the internal needs
of the company – customer service, stocktaking and so forth – while giving
employees access to nationally-recognised qualifications.

This relationship started in summer 2001. At that time, all formal training
was on hold and the plan was to concentrate on internal training only. However,
despite our apprehension, Lexicon came up with a proposal that convinced us to
revisit the NVQ route.

Branded programme

When we were considering our training requirements, we didn’t want to take
an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution.

We are working towards a Shoefayre-branded accreditation programme, and
Lexicon is one of the few providers prepared to put in the time and resources
to develop a tailored scheme such as this.

Lexicon’s corporate development director, Helena Williams, agrees:
"What we have developed is not a fixed scheme, it is a flexible approach
to training that can be tailored to satisfy both individual and company

We spent four months developing the initial courses and launched a pilot in
our outlets in South Wales in October 2001. Following the success of this
pilot, we went for a national launch in May 2002.

Under current arrangements, we offer Foundation and Advanced Modern
Apprenticeship training in retailing for the 16 to 24 age group, plus NVQ at
Levels 2 and 3 for staff over 24.

We see the programme as a stepladder that should enable everyone to gain the
qualifications to suit their job level.

Initially, the take-up was slow (see graph below), mainly because we had to
overcome some deep-grained preconceptions about training, which meant people
were reluctant to sign up. Due to bad experiences in the past, vocational
training was seen as an employer’s way of getting cheap labour. But this is an
outdated view and we set about changing these preconceived ideas.

As a key part of this process, we undertook a formal launch to all area
managers to ensure their buy-in. This then cascaded through the company.

"It is critical to develop the relationship between the Lexicon adviser
and the branch manager," said Williams. "Training is tailored to the
needs of each branch and the individuals in that branch. It is important that
everyone appreciates the value and benefits of this approach."

Early results from the retail training programme have been encouraging and
the NVQ partnership programme is now being expanded through the organisation’s
Leicester headquarters, and into its warehousing and logistics operations.

We have met the initial requirements of changing people’s perceptions about
their personal access to training. According to a recent survey, staff members
now believe that opportunities for development have improved dramatically over
the past few years. They are realising that meaningful training is not just for
the privileged few.

We now have 380 people in training. This includes shopworkers aged 16 to 64,
and a national training co-ordinator who has just started a Level 4 NVQ
programme. The target for 2003/4 is to increase the numbers participating by
200 to 250 people.

During the first year, there has been some negative feedback, which is
inevitable, but this has been taken on board and fed back into the programme,
which continually evolves.

Branded programme

We are still in the early stages, but the next phase in the development of
the training programme will be to establish means of measuring its impact on
the bottom line of the business in terms of productivity, staff retention and
ease of recruitment.

Recent innovations include a fast-track internal development programme,
which enables talented managers to complete training that might normally take
three years in just six to 12 months.

We are now looking at ways of integrating fast-track workshops into the NVQ
programmes to allow staff with potential to accelerate their training in a
similar way.

We at Shoefayre are very pleased with progress to date. The bespoke training
we are now providing has had a major impact on the attitude, morale and
confidence of individuals, really helping to bring them on. Our aim is to
maintain this quality and see a similar transformation with all our team
members in the future.

Training has a real impact on staff

The impact on those who have gone
through the training has been dramatic. One of the three recent achievers, Emma
Tucker, has seen a marked increase in confidence in her personal worth and in
her ability to do the job. By targeting the skills and support she needed, she
has now achieved the position of branch manager and she plans to take a NVQ
Level 3 in advanced supervisory management.

Tucker, who has been with Shoefayre for six years, is
enthusiastic about the programmes and the support provided by Lexicon.
"The way the courses are structured means they don’t disrupt the working
day, so you can carry on with your job while you study. I think it is a real
bonus that you can gain nationally-recognised qualifications while you work,
rather than having to make time to go to college."

Making a difference for our customers

High staff turnover is endemic in the
retail sector, not a problem faced by Shoefayre alone. However, by offering our
staff a vocational training structure that is genuinely tailored to individual
needs and that leads to nationally-recognised awards, we feel we have done
something to signal that we care for our employees and that sets us apart from
other employers in the sector.

The main benefit of this approach is that Shoefayre can
influence how training is delivered through our close relationship with
Lexicon. Obviously, no training programme is going to be perfect, but when
issues arise, they are quickly recognised and addressed jointly. This is a constantly
developing partnership.

Ability to meet business needs * * *
Buy-in by staff  * * *
Flexibility in delivery * * * *
Value for money * * * *
Overall rating * * * *

* = Disappointing  * * * * * = Excellent

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