Colruyt Group closes the gap between education and the workplace

Colruyt Group remains committed to reducing the gap between secondary education and what actually happens in the workplace. Over the past five years, more than a hundred teachers have attended train-the-trainer sessions in Colruyt, OKay and Dreamland stores. With the knowledge gained, they have provided practical teaching sessions on-site to more than a thousand students in vocational and part-time education. In order to get the best out of the practical teaching programme and to be able to learn from each other, the retailer has organised a feedback & review day for the teachers, together with senior officials Lieven Boeve (Catholic Education Flanders) and Raymonda Verdyck (Community Education). Each year, an average of one hundred and thirty young people in secondary education start work in Colruyt Group stores.

Finding the right match

It is especially true for the retail sector that the tension between education and practice remains an issue. Even though many young people take retail courses as part of their education, vacancies still remain open for a long time. "On the one hand, this is because there isn't an obvious match between the candidate's knowledge and skills and what we expect from a shop assistant", says Chris Van Wettere, General Manager Colruyt Low Prices. "The right attitude is also important. For instance, think of having a welcoming and helpful approach towards customers. It is therefore essential that as part of their retail course, students get a realistic view of what actually goes on. This means that the candidates coming to us will be more motivated and suitable, with an awareness of what they are getting into; consequently, they will remain with us for longer. Teachers are an important part of this process."

On the other hand, vacancies also result from an incorrect general perception of working in retail; all too often, retail is still associated with stacking shelves and sitting at a checkout. "This is a shame, because at Colruyt Group the job of shop assistant is definitely more varied and more challenging, with a variety of tasks in different departments. As a large company with a wide variety of store formulas and well-developed central services, we naturally also offer a lot of opportunities and career prospects. And finally, we take our social responsibility very seriously by giving young people the opportunity to grow," says Chris Van Wettere.

In-store practical teaching programme in two stages

In order to close the gap between education and what actually happens in practice, consultations started in 2012 between the Comeos trade federation, Catholic Education Flanders and various other companies. As a result, retail courses have been reformed and other forms of learning were introduced, such as practical teaching on location. "The programme of practical teaching on location has now been running for five years and our training modules in relation to labour market-oriented study programmes are now firmly established. By gaining valuable experience, there are sustainable benefits for students and teachers alike", says Lieven Boeve, Director General of Catholic Education Flanders.

At Colruyt Group, the practical teaching programme follows a fixed pattern. Under the motto 'train the trainer', teachers are first of all given a two-day introduction at head office to get to know the company thoroughly, ranging from company values to logistics organisation to the vision on development. They then follow a three-day retail work placement, learning all the basic tasks.  These participants gain valuable knowledge, insights and experience which they can include as part of their teaching. They will be able to better assess the required entry level for students and give them a realistic picture of the job. They are then ready to arrange a work placement that is tailor-made to the needs of their students. They make their own practical arrangements with a local store and then 'manage' their students in the workplace. "Cooperation with companies such as Colruyt Group is one of the ways in which our teachers can continue their professional development. It allows them to stay in touch with what is really happening in the workplace and allows them to fully prepare our students for the future", says Raymonda Verdyck, managing director of GO! Education of the Flemish Community.

Sharing good practices

Over the last five years, more than one hundred teachers have attended train-the-trainer sessions in Colruyt, OKay and Dreamland stores. "Much to their satisfaction, because they often come back to us. Nevertheless, it seems good to us to take an evaluation and look at areas of improvement. That is why we want to start a dialogue with the teachers during the feedback & review day. We want to hear which elements of what we offer they effectively work with, what they are lacking and how we can help the younger generation prepare even better for a job in a changing retail context," says Liezelot Trachet, who is in charge of partnerships with educational establishments at Colruyt Group.

"We are also curious to see how teachers approach the practical teaching sessions with their students. We think that they take their own approach towards preparation and interpretation. That's why we offer them a forum to share experiences, best practices and materials. We will also have brainstorming sessions about the ideal in-store practical training teaching session. What works, what doesn't? We also hope to learn a lot from this for the future."

Also in Wallonia and together with higher education

The model of practical on-site teaching sessions, whereby teachers attend an in-store train-the-trainer programme and then support their students in-store, currently exists only in Flanders. In Wallonia, Colruyt Group takes part in the project "Entr' Apprendre", whereby teachers from various vocational training programmes do a work placement in companies for several days. This means that they are in touch with the actual situation and expectations of the business community of today.

Finally, Colruyt Group also has a structured way of working together with various higher education institutions, for example in the framework of work placements, theses and various research projects. The retailer also offers guided tours, guest lectures and workshops on leadership, sustainability, etc. "This allows us to give a broader picture of what our group does and what we have to offer as an employer. And we keep our finger on the pulse to make the transition from education to work as easy as possible," concludes Liezelot Trachet.

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+32 (0)473 92 45 10

Nathalie Roisin

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