ISE sector insight: Retail, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods and Tourism

Delighted to share our third blog in our series, based on the recent Institute of Student Employers (ISE) Conference.

Thanks to Sharon Cant, Employer Engagement Adviser, with contributions from Sharon Maguire, Link Careers Consultant for the Medical School and Vet School and Anna Dryburgh, Recruitment Coordinator, for highlighting the key messages from a panel session focussing on the Retail, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and Tourism sector. The employers represented on the panel were the Co-op Group, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, British Airways (BA), Nestlé and Marks & Spencer (M&S).

What are perceptions of working in this sector?

In their introductions, the employer representatives all stressed that there is a lot more on offer in their organisations, and this sector in general, than students and graduates often realise. They talked about misunderstandings and misconceptions around what working in the sector means; that often students will think they know, but often only see part of the picture, and it seemed that this is sometimes harder for them than being a completely unknown brand.  In a way it is a drawback of being a recognisable high street brand.

It was a reminder that we all do this from time to time – the aspect of something we are most familiar with becomes all that we see, but it’s good to take a step back and remind ourselves that things are multi-faceted; so in the same way that:

  • Peter Mathieson isn’t just the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, he’s also someone’s Grandad (as he spoke about on the Sharing Things Podcast if you are interested in seeing another side to him).
  • The Co-op Group isn’t just the shop round the corner; it’s also a Funeral Care business and Pharmacy.

To be clear, the panel completely understand why this happens; they are just keen to help raise awareness of the broader range of roles that the sector can offer.

How has Covid-19 impacted this sector?

Helen Alkin, who works in Emerging Talent at BA, shared her thoughts:

  • Although the aviation sector is still ‘on its knees’ in operational terms, their commitment to attracting and developing emerging talent is still strong.
  • BA have an interest in hiring and creating a higher number of internships to attract candidates with the right set of skills as an ‘emerging talent’ initiative.
  • Also keen to introduce new graduate programmes in the coming years.
  • She mentioned BA’s interest in hiring and creating a higher number of internships to attract candidates with the right set of skills as an ‘emerging talent’ initiative. She mentioned that they were also keen to intorduce new graduate programmes in the coming years. Acknowledged a 30% reduction in overall staff numbers but explained that this has sharpened their focus on the future, and on ensuring that they are bringing in students and graduates with the skills and talents to support this new, leaner, different business that will emerge from the pandemic.

So although, we know that aviation has been hard-hit generally, there are positives for students and graduates in particular.

Evie Bate, who looks after youth recruitment in the UK for Nestlé, also provided examples of how the effect of Covid-19 has varied:

  • There are a variety of brands and sub-sectors covered by the Nestlé brand – having that breadth in the portfolio was beneficial during the pandemic.
  • It meant that the areas harder hit, for example, a drop in bottled water consumption due to fewer people out and about and environmental concerns, has been offset by an increase in coffee drinking in the home – so their Nespresso brand has performed well.
  • They are also continuing to diversify with recent acquisitions including Mindful Chef and Simply Cook.

Becky Keeble, Talent Manager at M&S, also spoke about how although retail has been hit hard, there have equally been some silver linings:

  • M&S have recruited the same number of student and graduates as they did last year.
  • Business has continued to develop and perform well, for instance:
    • Online sales routinely reaching normal Christmas-time levels resulting in a new partnership with OCADO to ensure they meet demand.

What does the future hold?

Looking forward, the panel were in broad agreement that:

  • Many elements of student and graduate attraction and recruitment will remain online, but they will also be keen to get back out and talk to students face-to-face.
  • Particularly value informal, in-person conversations for conveying to students a feel for the culture of their organisations.
  • Indicated that a lot of the online activity works best for students who already have some level of interest in the sector or the organisation, and that it has been more difficult in the online environment to connect with the harder to reach students.

However, recruitment team budgets have been cut which will have an impact on how much they can do, and there is still thinking to be done around working out what the right balance of in-person versus online activity will be – there will be a push to ensure cost-effectiveness. They also spoke about trying to create a balance between larger events to increase brand awareness and reach a wide range of students, and smaller specific events for small cohorts of students.

Impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR)

The panel responded both in terms of their recruitment activity and impact on their business in general:

  • Some examples of exploring AI in the wider business – such as the Co-op Group introducing a Robotics Team to support business optimisation – but limited wider impact.
  • Most spoke about this being explored across the business, but widened the discussion out to reinforce the message that rather than specific experience of VR or AI, what is important to them is upskilling their workforce with strong analytical capabilities.

The message was that Data and Analytical skills are needed across all aspects of their businesses, and they are looking for students and graduates to bring those skills.

Impact of the new Graduate Route visa

The panel seemed to view this route as a positive step to support students, but for these organisations who are recruiting onto Graduate Schemes – the point of which is to recruit future talent for their business – they weren’t anticipating that the new route would have a huge impact. They spoke of the importance of ensuring that they can retain the talent that they invest in via their Graduate Programmes which would mean that ensuring graduates can gain the Skilled Worker visa.  Further information on the Graduate Route visa is available from the University’s Student Immigration Service.

The panel generally acknowledged that easier access to international talent does support Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion was discussed…

The panel also discussed some of their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion activities and priorities:

  • Danny Matthews, the Early Careers Lead from the Co-op Group talked of gender balance issues that they are still focussed on, alongside improving their BME representation. He feels that the breadth of roles they can offer, and the fact they sit at the heart of communities, puts them in a stronger position to make good progress with these priorities.
  • Evie from Nestlé explained that essentially, they need to make sure their business is representative of their customers to be successful – they have specific targets around gender, ethnic diversity, socio-economic status and disability. They have worked with some third-party providers such as Handshake and Bright Network to run events specifically to try and address imbalances – for example, an event to encourage more females into technical and production roles. For some Sales roles, they introduced a new application process for applicants who were ethnically diverse or from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The challenge for them is that each of these events seem well received, but there is a limit to how many of them they can do.
  • Becky from M&S also spoke about the changes they have made to their processes – the expansion of ‘blind’ recruitment in the process – so assessors aren’t aware of University names, but also the names of previous employers as they identified that could be an area where unconscious bias creeps in. They’ve also gone to efforts to ensure that the people who assess are diverse themselves, and where they can’t provide a diverse pool of assessors in house, they bring in professionals. External assessors also reduce the impact of ‘internal bias’ (for example, recruiting people similar to those already working in M&S).
  • Some of the employers spoke of their commitment to the #10000BlackInterns ( initiative, and BA spoke about their efforts to counteract the impression that their industry is elitist – driven by the view of how expensive it can be to become a pilot – but of course that is just one career path out of many.

What are the opportunities to work in the area of sustainability?

The consensus seemed to be that roles solely focused on sustainability are smaller in number, but that increasingly sustainability issues are part of more and more roles across their organisations. At BA, graduates joining their Future Leaders Programme often work on projects directly related to environmental and sustainability issues facing the business.

Look out for our next blog in this series on the legal sector to be published soon…





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