Every little helps: Tesco sets standards for retail Foundation degree

A retail Foundation degree (Fd) for the whole retail industry, awarded by University of Arts London and Manchester Metropolitan University. 

fdf (Foundation Degree Forward), Tesco, University of Arts, London, Manchester Metropolitan University, My Knowledge Map, and advisory partners Skillsmart Retail Ltd and The Retail Academy Ltd, worked in partnership to develop a Foundation degree course to train retail managers across the sector.

Retail industry growth stretches talent pool

Tesco is the UK's largest private sector employer. Expansion of employment in the retail industry, which already employs three million of the nation's workforce, is also set to continue.

With fewer higher education graduates than other sectors and a high employee turnover, skills-gaps, employee retention and recruitment in retail prove problematic for retailers.

To both develop talent in the existing workforce and attract new talent, a retail specific Foundation degree (Fd) is now available for partnerships of employers and higher education providers to adopt and adapt to meet business needs.

Meeting industry needs

With retail partner Tesco, the fdf-led consortium designed a Foundation degree to improve business performance. Underpinned by workforce development needs, it created a flexible higher education, university awarded, qualification for the retail industry; to make knowledge and skills transferable across the sector.

A qualification to grow a workforce

Skillsmart Retail's recent report highlighted a need for improvement in:

  • managers' leadership skills in larger retail outlets
  • managers' skills and knowledge in independent stores

Structured around the leadership and knowledge skills gaps, the Fd was designed to be delivered through a combination of workshops, work-based learning and online tutorials.

Tesco employees set Fd standards

The two-year work-based course was piloted by 40 Tesco employees in September 2007 – from experienced to new retail professionals – providing a higher education pathway to those it may not be traditionally available to.

Kathy Coveney, Tesco Compliance Manager - a retail Fd studentThe high-level academic challenge of the Fd marries experience and theory application, through studying:

  • Retail environment
  • Retail operations
  • Consumer behaviour
  • Information management
  • In-store customer marketing
  • Retail law
  • Leadership in retail
  • Personal and professional development

Alex Cave, 29, a Duty Manager at Tesco, Helsby, is one of the first to undertake the Fd. Personal development is key to Alex, who, having worked at Tesco for ten years, has an ambition to become Store Manager.

"I feel that the Foundation degree gives me a competitive edge during performance reviews and will increase the opportunity for promotion."

Alex recently made a presentation to 60 Personnel Managers – something he had done before, but could now do with more skill.

"I was able to apply my learning, and received very good feedback."

Alex studies in his own time and time is also given to Fd employees to attend workshops at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has a dedicated tutor who he finds very supportive, in addition to online support for the web-based side of the degree.

"I learn something new from every aspect of the degree. I am more confident in my abilities and more commercially aware of the wider retail industry"

The consortium of education providers and retail specialists' goal was to develop workforces through education and training. Derek Longhurst, Chief Executive of fdf explains:

"The retail Fd is higher education for business needs. Far from just closing skills gaps, it equips staff for sector challenges and further develops competitive advantage for retailers."

Success through education-work-life balance

Pivotal to this principle is individual education-work- life balance; complementing, not compromising each.

Kathy Coveney in-storeAnother student benefiting from the flexibility of employer- based learning is Kathy Coveney, Tesco Compliance Manager and retail Fd student.

Supported by a Tesco head office mentor, Kathy's goal on completing the course is to work in the head office or in a regional support role. Kathy comments:

"I feel sure that the degree will improve my career prospects and open up new opportunities. I used to suffer from a lack of confidence – I feel that the course has now given me much more confidence in my abilities and I take on new challenges with a more 'can do' attitude."

As across the wider retail industry, Tesco aims to recruit from within, making qualification-based training ideal. David Potts, Retail and Logistics Director, Tesco, adds:

"Helping design the Fd to fit the needs of Tesco through student selection, course content and delivery model, students are already telling us how it meets their individual needs.

"The degree has been designed by business, for business, and Tesco is proud to be continuing to shape the future of training for the wider retail sector."

Following the successful pilot with Tesco, the retail Fd is now available for partnerships of retailers and higher education providers to adapt to the requirements of other organisations.

Please note: This case study was originally produced for the fdf, that organisation no longer exists.