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Things were supposed to get better: Education


learning, classroom, education, trainingThis is the third article in Peter James’ Ryan’s four week series, ‘Things were supposed to get better’. The second can be found here.

The government has declared its position on funding tertiary education and has indicated that it wants to move to a system more akin to the user pays model favoured in the US.

If this system is the one that eventually emerges it will not only require a social readjustment, but will begin to force students to increasingly focus on return on investment.

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald indicates that around 12,000 new lawyers graduate every year. The total number of practicing lawyers in Australia is nearly 60,000, and each year around 20 per cent of law graduates will fail to get a job as a lawyer.

Those that do are finding downward pressure on graduate salaries. The return on investment of traditional glamour degrees appears to be under pressure at the very time governments are pushing for user pays.

Tthe bigger picture from a return on investment perspective is at the societal level.

The government on one hand wants to push more people towards tertiary education. The cynical among us would argue this is to delay entry into the labour pool. The tertiary education industry has more than doubled its intake in the last decade alone, yet from a structural need point of view, we are educating generations of people for either non-existent jobs, or over educating them for the ones that we have a crying need for or the ones they will end up in.

The education system does such a good job at indoctrinating tertiary educational ambition and status that many students do not look outside the square at real opportunity. Some years ago I co-authored a book called Retail Is A University. It did not and I do not advocate university courses for the recruitment of future retailers.

My firm belief is that the best retailers are fundamentally shaped from working in retail businesses. Experience, embedded the hard way from trial and error,  forms a capability of understanding in the best retailers, store managers, and shop assistants that is impossible to grasp from books and theoretical education alone.

That is not to say that additional layers of learning don’t increase capability, but without the former as the foundation we run the risk of breeding people who enter retail as university graduates and not true retailers.

Individual retailers have historically understood this. Myer, David Jones, and Woolworths used to have extensive cadetship programs that provided a clever blend of direct retail experience from working in the business with structured learning and degree courses matched to real retail application. While you were in a job with a career path mapped out for you.

The retail industry needs people with retail understanding. We need smart, entrepreneurial thinkers with great judgement who care about customers and how to make money from them by delivering great retail experiences.

It is an opportune time for us to shape education and the best way for retail is re-establishing cadetships on a broader scale; working with the Government to find more ways to get teenagers into retail on a part time basis, and retaining experienced retailers for longer in a mentoring capacity.

Education is at a crossroads. The retail industry can reshape education to our benefit now.

Peter James Ryan is head of Red Communication. He can be contacted on (02) 9481 7215 or at

© Copyright 2014. Red Communication Australia.

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