Check back during the year for updates from our current graduates on what it's really like to be part of our schemes.
“I graduated with a degree in Law and having worked in a number of different jobs, I decided I wanted to manage people but in an environment that would constantly change and constantly challenge me. I interviewed with a number of different retailers; Waitrose stood out for the quality of the brand and having a personal touch. I wanted to have a flexible training programme that allowed me to progress at my own pace, and work for a company with clear aims for the future and an expectation of the highest standards.
“Having been on the scheme for almost a year, I can happily say that it has exceeded my expectations. The resources invested, both in technical and personal development, have included courses ranging from communication skills to food hygiene. Each has been an opportunity to learn whilst developing a network with other graduate trainees. I have been able to decide how to approach each stage of my training, and been given space and support to try new ideas.
“Technical training is the opportunity to learn how Waitrose works. This includes everything from the committees that exist to protect the rights of Partners to the display standards on the shop floor. There is a required standard of knowledge that needs to be reached before being allowed to move onto the Section Manager stage, but it is up to trainees to decide their training. I decided to divide my time equally between working on each section and spending time learning from the Branch Manager (BM) and Department Manager (DM). I structured my training by spending a week on each section, initially to learn how each operated although with the intention of spending more time on the sections that I needed to.
“I was fortunate to have a senior management team who encouraged and supported me in getting involved with all aspects of the branch. This included “duty managing” the shop floor for short periods during the day; taking a branch meeting with non-management Partners to discuss branch trading results and highlight particular areas of focus; presenting the year-end results to the branch management team; training Partners on new equipment and Section Managers on new reporting tools; and helping organise a wine evening for customers. Some of these were very challenging, but allowed me to provide evidence to support my competencies.
“Towards the end of technical training, and with Christmas approaching, I was desperate for some ownership and accountability, feeling very ready for the Section Manager stage. However, Christmas would be the worst time to take over a section when even experienced Section Managers were under pressure. The compromise was for me to run the warehouse for the Christmas period, giving experience of managing a small team and achieving standards.”
Section Manager Stage .......
Having completed my technical training, and my training by transfer, I thought I knew everything there was to know about dry goods, the section I was going to be running. I was luckily enough to be taking over a section that was running well, so my job for the 12 weeks was to maintain it, sounded easy.
I spent the first week with my Assistan Section Manager's running the section while I got to know everyone and this gave me an opportunity to see how I could not only maintain, but improve the section. Each day I would arrive early, stay late and still not complete everything that I wanted. I found this really frustrating and could feel my partner’s anxiety that they no longer had an SM who knew exactly what he was doing. I’m used to picking things up and being good at them quickly and it came as a shock after a very successful first stage to be unsure how to improve things.
There were two events that turned my section manager experience around. First I had a meeting with my Assistant Section Manager’s and talked about what we needed from each other. Although I never had any confrontation with either of them it wasn’t until we communicated that we were able to move the section back to where it was when I took over. Second, I met with one of my department managers from my first stage who asked me what I wanted to achieve. I reeled of a long list of what I wanted to change and all these ideas I had. I was asked if that was feasible in 12 weeks. It was only when I realigned my own expectations that I was able to enjoy the job. I started to look for quick wins that make a difference to my team, which not only improved my rapport with them but also gave me a sense of achieving regularly.
I didn’t really want to leave when I had completed my 12 weeks, I felt so much ownership for it and it was back to running pretty much as I found it. The Section Managers role is very demanding, very hands on, while also having to plan for the future. I was never expected to make the best SM in the World, it is an opportunity to learn first hand the demands of the job, and expose some of the competencies I will need as a department manager.
Princes Trust .....
Before starting my duty training I had the opportunity to work with the Princes Trust for a month. The Princes Trust, for those who don’t know, helps 16 – 24 year olds to find work or return to education through a 12 week programme. I joined them for the first 4 weeks as a team member. The first week is spent with ice breakers and finding a community project, the second on an activities week in the New Forest, and finally weeks 3 and 4 raising money and carrying out a community project.
Duty Training .....
It was good to be back in branch and back in my suit, once again part of the senior management team. The idea of duty training is to prepare you for running the shop floor and dealing with any situation that may occur. This could be anything form a shoplifter to a complete refrigeration breakdown. It is also an opportunity to spend time with current department managers to learn from the before going into the acting stage.
Acting Department Manager ......
So exactly 1 year after I started, I’m in a live role. The branch that I’ve taken over in only has one department manager – me! The intended month hand over so I could get used to the branch turned into one day. As can be the way in retail the best laid plans had to be changed. Definitely thrown in at the deep end, however I had confidence that I could do the job and was looking forward to the challenge.
I decided that I wouldn’t try and change anything for the first few weeks, just settle into the branch and get to know everyone. It’s a really friendly branch so I settled in quickly, which was lucky as my branch manager was on holiday the next week. There were so many things that I noticed straight away that I could improve, which is usual walking into a branch with a fresh pair of eyes. No branch is ever going to be perfect and I knew I wasn't going to be able to tackle everything at once. Trying to do so would probably have been a very quick way to lose any rapport built up. I instead decided to write everything down to be tackled at a later point, and instead concentrated on the day to day running of the branch.
The weeks have flown by dealing with the strange and random incidents that occur as part of a DM’s role. My exposure has been very high, not only running the branch, but also planning the direction that the branch will take. With only being a 2 man team, the majority of the time that I’m in branch I’ll be on my own. Although initially hard as I had very little guidance on decisions that I had never seen before, the exposure has improved my confidence in my ability to make decisions.
During my acting DM stage all my graduate intake had a week away to collaborate research we had been carrying out before a presentation to our managing director, Steven Esom. Although it was hard to leave my branch for a week, and constantly wanting to know what was happening with the figures and preparations for Christmas the experience was fantastic. Having the opportunity to work with senior head office Partners so early in my career was inspirational. Having the opportunity to stand in front of the MD and influence the direction the business took gave me a taste of what I want to be doing in the future.
Back in branch the build up to Christmas was in full force, which I approached with a small amount of trepidation having never managed at Christmas before. I shouldn’t have worried, it’s the time of the year that’s most fun to work in retail. We sell twice as much in that week compared to normal and although there is stock and customers everywhere the Partnership spirit is even more evident.
The New Year has brought my offer of appointment so while I’ll be sad to no longer be a graduate after a very enjoyable 15 months, removing the “acting” from the bottom of my e-mails will be a good feeling.
“When I graduated from uni (Pembroke College, Oxford with an English Lit degree in 2003), I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had done a non-vocational degree in the hope that it would give me flexibility, not foreseeing that it means you also have no real direction. To be honest, all I wanted to do was get away from the books and exams and see the world, but I think being trained to approach a shoplifter with a weapon was pretty far from the agenda! Incidentally, that was yesterday.
“So, cliché-style, I decided to backpack round the world, with the obligatory fruit-picking in Oz and call-centre work to save for my next flight. But, with some great photos and a fading tan, I realised I hadn’t a clue what was next. If there's one thing travelling doesn't do, it's help you figure out what you want to do with your 'grown-up' life. I realised I love travelling – but didn’t have enough money to keep going.
“Much temping and trawling of jobs listings later, I hit my uni careers service in desperation. They were pretty handy, chatted to me about all the crazy work experience I've had (conference manager, plasterer and make up artist) and what was important to me in a career (minimal deskwork, plenty of variety, contact with people) and somehow drew from all this that retail could be a great option. I'd always lumped 'retail' in with 'sales' and had not considered it properly, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised they were right.
“All I knew about Waitrose was that they sell fantastic food, were part of the John Lewis Partnership and are more ethical than Tesco. And they had a stand at the Guardian Graduate Fair. So I toddled off down to Earl's Court and was instantly struck by just how passionate the people I talked to were about the job they were doing. Everyone seemed so infectiously enthusiastic, the kind of response no employer can make someone fake. All that was left was for me to fill out the application form...
“A selection centre and an interview later, and I was starting at Marylebone High Street in central London. A newbie in London, it was a bit intimidating just finding the place. With over-polished shoes and a brand new suit, I walked through the door without a clue what to do when my Department Manager met me and shook my hand so hard I thought my knuckles would pop. Then she asked 'what are you going to do this week?' I think I just stared at her for a while, so she smiled, suggested I think about it and left me to it. Those first couple of days were a blur of new names, but it all fell fairly rapidly into place. You get used to the rhythms of the branch and technical training is a great way to get to know everyone in a store, as you work on every section and are involved at every level. On any given day I would go from a meeting with all the Section Managers to learning how to gut and fillet a sea bass to sitting in on a meeting with the Branch Manager.
“I was totally green – I had never worked in a supermarket and had to be shown the correct way to fill a shelf, as well as pretty much everything else in the store. I ended up spending a couple of weeks on each section in the run up to Christmas and then, in December, helped to run Wines, Frozen and Bread. By that point, I had been itching for some responsibility so the change was really welcome. I got to spend time ordering Xmas stock, training people and advising customers on the best wine to go with their turkey. All good experience for the next stage – running my own section!”
"In at the deep end - it's a really Waitrose way of doing things. So when I turned up at Whetstone, I had no real idea what the Section Manager (SM) stage would involve ......
"Taking over any section is a daunting task, particularly when your Partners don't realise that they're your learning curve. Explaining to them that I had never done the job before and was there to get an idea of what the role involved made my life so much easier - they stopped judging me and started trying to be more supportive.
"But the SM stage has a well-deserved reputation as being the hardest stage on the grad course. I also found it hard to swallow the fact that my incompetent ordering resulting in masses of wastage was OK so long as I learned from it. But over time, you get through it. Fruit/Veg/Horticulture has the advantage of being quick to turn around - you can sort out your stock levels in about 3 days and if your ordering is good and you have enough staff, you get time to look at other things - something I have only just started to find time to do.
"There were parts of SM stage I’ve really enjoyed - the highlight being organising 'healthy eating' tours of the branch for school kids; ninety 5-year-olds can be a daunting audience, but you stand them in the freezer for a while, show them a dragon fruit and a custard apple, let them try some mango and yellow cherry tomatoes and they love you forever.
"However, easily the most important thing that got me through the bad days was the bond with other grads on the scheme. Knowing that I could pick up the phone or send an email and know that other people were going through similar things was incredibly reassuring, and the courses we've had throughout the past 3 months have been great catch-up sessions as well. It's also good to get out of branch, take a breather and hear from some of the directors that we are important to the business and it's OK to mess up at this point, because my confidence levels had taken a serious bruising from the day-to-day shop-floor stuff.
"I'm pleased to say that I'm now onto the next stage of my training - Duty Manager Training, so I'll be able to write all about my experiences in my next diary entry .... watch this space !"