Academy of Learning bolsters EC retailer's staff development

05 June 2024
Academy of Learning bolsters EC retailer's staff development

Making the SPAR Academy of Learning in the Eastern Cape the success it is today are, from left, retail systems training specialist Albertyn Olivier, human resources development manager for retail Mandi Pullen, and human resources development manager at th

The days of employees receiving cursory half-day training sessions and being expected to perform optimally are long gone.


Today, the global learning and development (L&D) market is valued at more than R10-trillion, a figure that speaks volumes about companies’ commitment to upskilling staff.


While the L&D space has become big business, the fact remains that job-relevant, effective staff training is essential if firms are to succeed in their respective sectors.


It empowers employees to do their best work to enhance a business’s service offering while promoting staff retention. Hiring new people can be costly given the resources that need to be invested in their development to bring them up to speed.


In South Africa, for example, family retailer SPAR places a huge premium on the growth of workers through its internal Academy of Learning.


Mandi Pullen, SPAR’s human resources development manager for retail in the Eastern Cape, said each department followed its own learning path and layers of capabilities.


“Some of the training is more legislative in nature – aspects like first aid, firefighting and food safety. We do risk audits to make sure everything is done to comply with legislation.”


Each region where the Group operates has its own Academy division and the programme upskills personnel at its distribution centres (DCs) and retail outlets.


While DC employees are required to have a qualification, it is not necessarily true for those at retail stores. However, this does not preclude the latter from becoming a store manager down the line.


This is where the effectiveness of the retailer’s training academy is felt most.


“You should imagine it like levels of a game. As part of our in-store programme, we use eLearning to induct staff,” Pullen said. “This allows them to understand what their job profile entails.”


The training is also set up in such a way that a cashier who may be interested in cooking can learn what is required in the bakery section.


The stores undergo a training needs analysis with Pullen and her colleagues addressing gaps that are identified. Training responses to new trends in the grocery sector are another component.


The Group’s SUPERSPARS in Newton Park and Walmer in Gqeberha, for example, carry many plant-based and health-conscious food items. It therefore stands to reason that staff need to be educated about these products so they can advise customers correctly.


While in-person learning is still a major part of SPAR’s development initiative, eLearning has been a game-changer.


SPAR makes use of the course management system Moodle and, for ordering, Sigma. In the Eastern Cape alone, it currently has 12 027 staff members registered for online learning.


Pullen explained that Moodle, which offers various modules, is self-paced so staff can take the courses when it suits them.


“The video-based and interactive platform also allows you to learn about another department, which might pique your interest and change your learning journey.”


The platform is highly cost-effective. As Pullen pointed out, the subscription came in at about R900 per month, which meant that training of large groups was inexpensive.


“It also puts every single person on the same level because they are all experiencing the same learning content.”


According to global data-gathering platform Statista, South Africa’s online learning platform market is expected to grow by 19.92 per cent in the next five years, resulting in a market volume of R5.3-billion.


Pullen said Academy trainers in the province – seven of whom are externally sourced to cater to different towns and cities – delighted in feedback from staff when they learned new things.


“You see the light go on in their brains. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Author: Coetzee Gouws, Full Stop Communication