If you think retail isn't rocket science, you're right. There are entry-level retail jobs you don't need a degree to get. And you can move up the retail ladder with drive, hard work and persistence.
However, retail is an intensely competitive industry. It's also becoming more technology-focused. So although years of formal education or specialized training may not be necessary to get your first job stocking shelves or behind a counter, you've got to ask yourself: Is that where I want to stay?
If you want to get on the fast track in retail, make plans now to further your education.
What Kind of Training Should I Aim For?
Training programs for retail professionals range from in-house courses offered to staff by employers to advanced degrees completed at four-year colleges and graduate schools. In addition, training for many skills needed in retail sales positions is offered in high schools, public vocational and technical centers, and community colleges.
Depending on how much schooling you've already completed and your long-term career goals, there are different types of training programs that can prepare you to be a competitive player in retail:
- High School Programs for Non-Graduated Students: If you're still in high school or have left school and haven't earned a GED yet and are still younger than 20 years old, your local school district may have a marketing or business education program or a cooperative education (co-op) program you should check out.
- Certificate Programs: These usually take less than a year to complete, but some may take up to two full years. In retail, some certificate programs are self-paced, offering a combination of classroom and computer or video-based classes designed for people who want to progress at their own speed.
- Associate Degree Programs: These require attending classes for at least two academic years. Associate degree programs are available in community and junior colleges, some four-year colleges and some technical or trade schools. About half the required courses are in general education or liberal arts (math, English, science, history, etc.), and half are in your selected major, such as business, retail management or fashion merchandising.
- Bachelor's Degree Programs: This path combines courses in your major field (such as marketing, finance, management, etc.) with general education in a four-year curriculum at a college or university.
Management Training Programs
Many retail chains have formal training programs for management trainees. In addition, many large retail organizations provide new and experienced employees with structured training classes. These courses address topics such as the company's history and philosophy, product and service information, loss-prevention strategies, sales and marketing techniques, and more.
Making the Most of the Training Program
After you commit yourself to a training program, it's in your best interest to excel.
A good academic record shows potential employers that you have discipline and a commitment to doing well, says Erik Gordon, who directs the Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
"The excuse that classes don't matter because they're not real world doesn't work. Employers want people who will do well with every task assigned to them, not just with tasks they find interesting," notes Gordon.
So, are you ready to crack those books and sharpen your retail knowledge? Keep these facts in mind:
- The more education you have, the better your opportunities for advancing into supervisory or retail management positions.
- Your budget, the cost and the location of the training program will influence your decision.
- Think of a school as an education store. Can you get what you want or need by shopping there and buying what it sells? Carefully study, evaluate and compare schools, just as if you were buying any product.