SPAR Eastern Cape’s is helping to counter youth unemployment in South Africa through its Academy of Learning. Photo: Supplied

Unemployed youth get the chance to learn about the behind-the-scenes runnings of the retail industry in their search for employment.


South Africa (26 June 2024) – For most people, the experience of stopping for fuel at a filling station is largely the same.

You pull up in your vehicle, the attendant greets you and asks how much petrol or diesel you want, a debit card is tapped, or cash exchanges hands, and everyone is happy.

Occasionally, a driver might pop into the station’s convenience store for a quick cup of coffee or other sips, but that is about the extent of the process.

At least from the customer’s point of view.

From the garage owner’s perspective, the motorist’s interaction with the attendant and/or cashier is only a fraction of the entire operation, albeit a vital one in terms of the company’s product offering.

Behind the scenes, large numbers of professionals work tirelessly to ensure motorists are kept on the road.

Importers, refinery workers, bulk storage experts, tanker drivers, accountants and lawyers represent only a small cross-section of those responsible for bringing fuel to the pump from its destination of origin.

Retail works in much the same way. Beyond what a customer sees on the shelves lies a world filled with workers in different career fields who make certain they remain stocked.

Through its Academy of Learning, it is this point that the SPAR Group aims to drive home to South African school-leavers and graduates – huge opportunities exist within the retail space, many of which occur outside the walls of the physical store.

According to Stats SA, around one in every three South Africans is unemployed, of which just over 40 per cent has matriculated. Just over 10 per cent of those without jobs are people with a tertiary education of some description.

However, SPAR believes youth unemployment can be reduced if they widen their gaze to include less-obvious opportunities within the sectors they engage with daily.

“All an 18-year-old school-leaver may see is the shop, not a potential career choice. But there is a much bigger picture than the retail store,” Mandi Pullen, SPAR Eastern Cape’s human resources development manager for retail, said.

Apart from in-store fresh food departments, butcheries, bakeries and hot foods, there are fields such as engineering, architecture, interior design, finance and food safety, risk and technology to consider.

“We want our young people to understand this,” Pullen said.

Earlier this year, SPAR EC used the Working World Expo at the Feathermarket Centre in Gqeberha to help local youngsters recognise the career potential that exists within retail.

The retailer offers several programmes for school leavers and graduates in the province.

Through its partnership with Youth Employment Services (YES), an organisation that collaborates with businesses to create quality work experiences, 55 applicants are accepted every year.

“The YES programme has run nationally for many years,” Pullen explained.

“We partner with our stores to ensure collaboration of learning across retail and the Distribution Centre, where we offer a comprehensive 12-month training programme.”

Interns earn a minimum wage while receiving ongoing personal development training and coaching as well as numerous other benefits.

It is here where they often see learners shine and show their worth, giving successful candidates an opportunity to gain permanent employment within retail.

To encourage young jobseekers, SPAR also ran a motivational programme in which the stories of staffers who had risen through the ranks were told.

This initiative involved interviewing such employees online and giving participants an opportunity to interact with them.

A good example is a team member who started out as a baker in a store and is now involved in the overall operations of SPAR EC’s bakery division.

“These stories helped showcase the exciting world of retail to Grade 11 and 12 learners,” Pullen said.

“It ran for three years and led to us partnering with a company that offered one of the candidates an 18-month mentorship. On completion, she was offered a permanent position.”

She even ended up working on the Facebook account of a former DC employee, who is now a retailer.

“It was a lovely story of coming full circle.”

These programmes were aimed at making the retail sector attractive to young people and “graduates” could then relay their SPAR journey to members of their community, Pullen said.

Sources: Supplied
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Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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