Sainsbury’s Justin King slams retail skills shortage


Last week, Justin King, CEO of Sainsbury complained that:

“The British education system is leaving supermarkets short of potential employees with appropriate specialist skills …. and that the supermarket sector in general does not receive the recognition it deserves as a career choice for graduates.”

At the same industry event last year Sir Terry Leahy, the Tesco chief executive said:

“Standards in schools are woefully low leaving employers to bear the consequences.” (

Isn’t this strange?

In the agency world, FMCG experience is an imperative on any high-flyer’s CV.

And you don’t do FMCG if you don’t do major-multiple retail.

My initial reaction to King and Leahy was not to blame the ‘British education system’ but for the likes of Sainsbury and Tesco to do something about it themselves.

If the retail sector, as arguably the most vital and influential part of the marketing chain, cannot compete with graduate enthusiasm to join the likes of P&G, Unilever and the multitude of agencies that supply them, then that is their own problem.

So I was delighted to read at the end of the piece that:

“The IGD, a body which says it is ‘dedicated to the development of the food and grocery industry’ and of which Mr King is president, yesterday launched the IGD Academy to offer training to people wanting to work in the sector. This year 2000 people will go through IGD training courses.”

I wonder if the new IGD Academy will approach the task with the same enthusiasm, talent and vigour that Marc Lewis has jet-propelled into the new, much smaller, School of Communication Arts (SCA 2.0), of which over 300 of us are mentors?

I do hope that the same level of creativity can be applied to the IGD curriculum.

I do hope the roles of marketing companies and agencies are included in the loop. (After all, if the retail sector cannot leverage the support of marketing and agency people, then no one can).

And I do hope that the retail sector will fund this initiative generously – both in cash and time, by enthusing its own industry experts as SCA 2.0 has done.

Perhaps, even, the IGD and SCA.20 courses could be dovetailed in such a way that students have the opportunity to look over both sides of the fence?

And is their an equivalent in marketing? Again, I do hope so. Then they could all get together.

However they develop, with the appalling level of debt that is about to be piled onto our graduate talent pool, the commercial sector owes it to society to fund and support more and more of these industry-led educational initiatives.

We certainly cannot trust our futures to the politicians who may or may not be clinging onto control of the education system about which Messrs King and Leahy have complained so vehemently.

Like Marc Lewis and SCA 2.0, we would be better off getting on with it ourselves.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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