According to recent reports, John Lewis is planning to offer its staff the chance to study for "degrees" under a work-based scheme dubbed the "University of John Lewis". But do programmes such as this really benefit employees?

The staff-owned retailer said it would offer senior managers a level 6 vocational qualification, said to be equivalent to an honours degree, by the end of the year. The department store chain already offers a range of existing programmes leading to qualifications. Last year 1,330 John Lewis partners gained a retail diploma, with a third picking up a level 3 qualification, which is at a standard equivalent to A-levels.

John Lewis’ announcement is nothing new. There is a growing trend for workplace learning alongside iconic retail brands. In 2010 Harrods became Britain’s first retailer to offer an honours degree in sales after it announced its partnership with Anglia Ruskin University. And the Fashion Retail Academy, which is backed by industry big hitters including Arcadia, Marks & Spencer, GUS, Tesco and Next, offers students a diploma in fashion retail. Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green, who spearheaded the launch of the London academy has been quoted as saying, "Training people and bringing through a new generation of people is paramount to the future success of retailing in the UK. We can develop people who love this business and have a passion for it in their blood”.

Meanwhile, John Lewis personnel director, Laura Whyte, was quoted in the Guardian as saying: "There is an old-fashioned view that retail doesn’t offer people long-term career opportunities, but that is just no longer the case.

"Our partners give us our competitive edge, and if we want them to stay with us for the long term, we need to make sure that they have the right skills to meet the challenges we face in an evolving retail environment."

Continued Professional Development, or CPD, is a hot topic amongst HR professionals at present. Many see engaging and developing star performers within their organisation as a sure-fire way to retain top talent. Training can also help nurture those who have the potential to grow and flourish as professionals – but need a little help.

Workplace degrees, along with other in-house training initiatives, benefit not only individual employees but their industry as a whole. By sharing and developing essential skill-sets we are able to preserve talent within our organisations by investing in the leaders of tomorrow.

Here at Handle Recruitment, our HR Mentoring Programme has been praised throughout the industry for its holistic approach to the development of expertise within the HR community. And the introduction of structured and recognised training programmes within the retail sector will no doubt help to develop talent pipelines for the future.

What’s your view? Does offing staff the opportunity to train for diplomas increase engagement and loyalty? Or are less formal training initiatives just as likely to boost productivity and retention? Let us know by commenting below.    

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