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School for retailers

Riding the boom in the retail sector, Pantaloon Retail is adding a new outlet every week and 500 employees to its rolls every month. But finding the right people was proving difficult.

Dibyajyoti Chatterjee | Print Edition: December 30, 2007

Riding the boom in the retail sector, Pantaloon Retail is adding a new outlet every week and 500 employees to its rolls every month. But finding the right people was proving difficult.

Eyeing shop floor talent: Pantaloon has tied up with 11 B-Schools
The retail boom
The reason was that many people did not want to work for a “store”. “The problem was with the mindset of people. Till recently, retail was not viewed as a respectable and dignified profession by many people,” says Sanjay Jog, Head HR, Pantaloon Retail. Though retail is now viewed as a “cool” sector to work in, finding trained people who are passionate about providing customers a “shopping experience” remains a problem.

To get over this, Pantaloon has tied-up with 11 B-schools around the country to offer its employees a two-year management programme in retail. Unlike many other companies, Pantaloon gives its employees a two-year sabbatical, bears the tuition fees and also pays them salaries during the two-year period. A brainchild of Kishore Biyani, Managing Director, Pantaloon Retail, the education initiative has been successful in attracting and retaining talent.

The scheme kicked off in 2003 with a tie-up with the Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai. Later, institutes such as K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research, Mumbai, Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM), Kolkata, Chennai Business School and a few others were also added to the list. Each year about 60-70 Pantaloon employees are placed in the collaborating institutes.

Pantaloon supports the initiative in other ways as well. It provides the inputs to structure the curriculum and sends its senior staff as visiting faculty to teach students practical aspects of organised retail. “When we started out, there was a lack of domain knowledge about retail and our assistance was welcomed by the partnering institutes,” says Kurien C.K., General Manager, HR and Design, Pantaloon Retail.

Says 25-year-old Pankaj Sharma, a commerce graduate, who worked in a Big Bazaar outlet in Agra for one year before joining BLS Institute of Management, Ghaziabad, as a nominee of the company: “For financial reasons, pursuing an MBA was not feasible for me.”

As a result of this and other initiatives, Pantaloon’s attrition rate is about 4 per cent (at mid-management level), much lower than the industry average of 20-25 per cent. The attrition rate for front-line staff is 8 per cent, down from 12 per cent in the last four years.

Every year, employees take part in the selection process conducted by a third party and based on their performance in a written test and interview,are sent to B-schools. Every employee who has completed one year of service in the company is eligible to apply.

About 700 candidates pass out of the collaborating institutes each year. Pantaloon hires about 100 of these graduates and also takes back its 60 employees. “The courses will lose their credibility if we take the entire batch of students. We want other retailers to pick up candidates from our partnering institutes as well,” says Jog.

But does Big Bazaar still carry the tag of a “store”? Ask Chiranjeet Saha, 24, a B. Tech from West Bengal University of Technology. “After completing engineering, I joined Big Bazaar because I found its offer very convincing and my parents encouraged me. I am happy because I got an opportunity to do an MBA too,” he says.

As a result of this initiative, Pantaloon gets a loyal and trained workforce, employees adds value to their knowledge base and the economy gains a pool of trained manpower—a win-win situation for everyone concerned.

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