By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
A growing force in today's employment market is retail: some 220,000 Canadian establishments employ almost two million people, making it the third largest employer in the country, and the second largest in Ontario.
Yet despite these staggering numbers, many people hold narrow ideas about the types of career opportunities in this industry.
"The misunderstanding is that it's all about working in a store, which makes sense, because people's first interactions with it are in a store," says Andrew Siegward, director of education for the Retail Council of Canada (RCC). "What they're not seeing is all the work behind the scenes that supports the customer experience."
The RCC represents more than 9,000 members, including national and regional department stores, mass merchants, specialty chains, independent stores and online merchants. To address a shrinking labour pool compounded by retiring baby boomers, the RCC created the Canadian Retail Institute (CRI), which promotes retail education and awareness of career opportunities in the industry.
"Depending on where your interests lie, you could work in human resources, management, marketing, merchandising -- the list goes on and on," Siegward says.
That list also includes sales, buying, business development, store planning and design, product development, information management, loss prevention, accounting, retail consulting and entrepreneurship.
Job seekers caught up in the home improvement craze couldn't find a better time to enter retail -- household furnishings was one of the most successful retail categories in 2003, and is still going stronger than ever.
"If you have creativity and an interior design background, you can make serious money helping clients renovate their homes," says Brenda Dumont, sales and marketing director of www.canadianretail.com
. "Also, being a buyer for a store is the niftiest job. If you have the right skills, and understand what shade of pink people will be painting their bedrooms next season, you can select furniture that will match."
Launched in 2001, www.canadianretail.com
is the country's only dedicated retail job board, featuring postings from more than 240 different small, medium and large retailers, and up to 2,500 postings a day. The site is free to use and receives 5.6 million hits a month.
Dumont says that IT specialists also play a major role in helping retailers run efficiently by maintaining and updating their computer systems and cash registers. Likewise, as the industry continues to grow as a whole, so, too, do the opportunities for those who keep retail companies on track financially.
"If you are an accountant, there are lots of beans to count in retail," Dumont says.
So what qualities are essential to getting ahead in retail?
"Retail works best for people whose mothers taught them to be nice. You need to have that helping gene," Dumont says. "It's not good work for a desperately shy person -- there's some in-your-face to it. But if you enjoy helping people, the sky's the limit."
Siegward says business-minded individuals with strong people skills, creativity and analytical skills will excel in the retail industry.
Today, training for a career in retail is easier than ever. While many start working without formal education and then work their way up, many parts of the industry call for more specialized expertise. The CRI has created its own certification and training programs specifically for in-store sales associates and first-level managers. Also, the CRI website lists 22 educational institutions in Ontario offering some form of retail instruction. Among them is Ryerson University, whose four-year bachelor of commerce in retail management includes internships in the field.
"We're always looking for opportunities where students can get real experience in the area of retail that they're interested in, whether it's marketing or buying or something else," says Elizabeth Evans, director of the Ryerson School of Retail Management.
Individuals can also apply to CRI's Retail as a Career Scholarship Program, which each year awards $1,000 to five successful candidates.
The scholarship is geared toward those with some retail experience who want to obtain formal education. The deadline to apply is April 15 (see sidebar below for web information).
As well, on April 28, the Retail Job and Career Fair will take place in Richmond Hill, and will feature many opportunities within the industry, including in management.
Says Siegward: "There's a lot of room to grow within retail and to build a rewarding and successful career."
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