Retail goes on staff hunt

Newsroom 19/05/2008 | 15:48

The recent expansion of retail chains across the country, fuelled by increasing consumption and demand, and backed up by the growing trend of retail real estate developments, has stumbled upon several problems. While real estate-related issues like the price of land and more recent difficulties in finding fast financing for projects are in the hands of real estate developers to solve, the human resources problem affects both developers and retailers.
Developers are facing a lack of personnel to build their projects, which directly affects the construction companies and reflected in the difficulties in getting projects done on time.
The retail segment, however, seems to be facing a bigger problem, given retailers' ambitious plans. Hypermarkets, supermarkets, cash and carry chains, fashion retailers, mobile telephony retailers, DIY, home appliance, book and furniture stores, they all fish more or less in the same pool of job candidates. Based on retailers' announced store openings, more than 40,000 jobs will be created. The unemployment rate has been decreasing constantly in recent times, down to 3.9 percent at the end of April, a cut of 0.3 percent on the rate at the end of March this year. The unemployment rate in Romania is close to but lower than that in the EU, and much lower than the figure in Poland and Hungary.
Online job ads for positions in retail, sales and commerce attract between 80 and 160 candidates per post, says Laura Chilom, HR consultant with eJobs.ro. Retail is also the area which offers the highest number of vacancies compared to other areas, according to data from the portal. Of a total of 11,000 jobs posted on the site, 3,700 were in retail and commerce, while in most of the other domains the number was less than half that. The IT sector came second, with 2,300 vacancies.

Retail competition triggers workforce migration
At the end of March there were 47 hypermarkets in total in Romania, according to recent data from MEMBR. Supermarkets numbered 50 units in Bucharest alone, totaling 128 across the country at the end of March, according to MEMBR. The cash & carry segment had 47 units in Romania, and discounters had 202 outlets in Bucharest and the rest of the country. The need for staff varies by the type and size of store. A Carrefour unit employs around 500 people, while an entire compound made up of the hypermarket and the shopping galleria needs around 1,200 staff. A Real hypermarket employs between 400 and 700 people, while a discounter store, such as Minimax Disount, employs 20.
By the end of 2008, Carrefour should employ 2,500 people. The French retailer currently employs 7,900 people in its hypermarkets and 1,200 in its supermarkets division in Romania.
Large retailers have announced strong expansion plans by 2010 across the country, which will trigger massive recruitment campaigns, and this will deepen the gap of between supply and demand for workforce and will probably lead to a real personnel crisis in the next few years, says Andreea Mihai, marketing manager with French retailer Carrefour.
“We can feel the lack of workforce more than we did several years ago, which leads to staff migration from one company to another,” says Alina Olaru, HR manager with RTC Group. The company employs from two to three employees in smaller stores, to over 70 staff in its bigger store formats.
While some candidates for retail jobs already have two or thee years of experience in the field, others start fresh after college, and the operational part of the retail business is their first choice. This has prompted employers to train their freshly employed staff, which has shrunk budgets by several thousands of euros per year. Training alone is not enough on a competitive market like retail, so retention methods should accompany it.
Carrefour has trained 86 percent of its staff in 2007, around 6,100 people. The retailer has an in-house training unit, and so does Real Hypermarkets Romania.
“The best way to keep an employee is to offer the chance to grow in the company. Promoting people from within the company is the best retention method,” explains Mihai of Carrefour.
The need for employee training has led to the development of a niche market for third party specialized training services. More than one hundred such companies are active on the Romanian market.

High expectations and foreign staff
Nowadays, employees expect more from their bosses than they would have three or four years ago, as due to the increasing number of companies in the field and the shortage of workers, they feel they have more options. “Employees are asking for more than they did a few years ago. They are much more informed these days, and on the other hand less loyal,” says Olaru of RTC. Their expectations have risen regarding working conditions, financial compensation and personal development opportunities. “They have no problem in changing jobs if the current employer doesn't tick one of these boxes adequately,” says Olaru.
This is no wonder, as a jobseeker currently has the opportunity to choose from four or five different offers, says Ramona Toma, training and development manager with Real Hypermarket Romania.
The personnel fluctuation has increased compared to three or four years ago, and it is mainly visible at the basic commercial lever, in the stores, because this is where people with a short term vision work, says Andreea Mihai.
While the RTC HR director believes the quality of the workforce has remained relatively constant during the past few years, the Real manager finds quality going down with quantity. “A challenge for retail is to fill specialized positions, such as bakers, butchers and chefs for production areas,” says Olaru.
The shortage of specialized personnel, resulting from the lack of schools to train them, has prompted Real to hire foreign staff to train local employees. Foreign retailers operating in Romania for the first time usually fly in some of their staff from other stores to help for the opening period, which was the case with Peek & Cloppenburg, which recently opened a store in Baneasa Shopping City.
Carrefour has the same problem in filling in the specialized positions. Its strategy is to partner high-school and specialized school and train students in their stores.

Wanted: out-of-town workers
It is more difficult for retailers to find staff in Bucharest than in other cities in Romania, but large secondary cities, to which they started to expand a while ago, are challenging too. The unemployment rate in Bucharest was 1.8 percent in January this year, one of the lowest figures across the country.
Some of the retailers in Bucharest have started to attract workforce from nearby places, a practice which was used in regional cities as well. While shopping malls and retail parks in these cities target not only inhabitants of the city, but those living in the surrounding areas as well, they try to attract workforce in a similar way, sometimes going for other cities in the region. Azali Trading, which runs Piazza Italia and Sunglass Hut stores, was looking for staff for its stores in City Park Mall of Constanta and welcomed applicants from Mangalia and Medgidia, which are 30 to 40 minutes by bus from Constanta. Neocity Group, developers of City Park Mall in Constanta, expected the mall to generate 2,000 new jobs.
Other cities in the country are also hubs for new jobs in their regions. BauMax, Deichmann, Steillman, Ambient, Meli Melo, Chronotime and Otter have all posted job announcements online in the last month for their existing and future units in Cluj-Napoca. Deichmann is looking for people in cities like Arad, Sibiu, Tecuci, Fagaras, Pitesti, Ploiesti, Oradea and Turda. Finding people in small cities can become challenging, especially when the region has fuelled the wave of Romanian workers abroad.
For Carrefour, the north west part of Romania was the most challenging, but the retailer took advantage of its outskirts location and attracted workforce from neighboring localities, says Andreea Mihai.
Several large Romanian cities will see new shopping malls or retail parks, which will put more pressure on the available workforce. Bucharest with be one of these cities, with five large retail openings scheduled for this year. In 2008 alone, 24 commercial centers were scheduled to open in the capital, Suceava, Iasi, Braila, Piatra Neamt, Brasov, Constanta, Buzau, Oradea, Galati, Deva and Focsani.
Posting online job announcements is a popular way of attracting workers, but retailers have diversified channels in order to reach those without internet access during the day, who mostly work in the same field. “We have chosen outdoor ads due to their visual impact and because they are suited to our target candidates, people who commute,” says Toma of Real.
Job fairs in different Romanian cities are among the most accessible channels of communicating vacancies and of building a database of potential candidates.

By Corina Saceanu

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