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The changing face of retail


There’s a common misconception that a job in retail starts and ends on the shop floor. Or that working in the industry is merely a ‘rite of passage’ young people must traverse while studying at school or university.

However, for a growing band of retail professionals, working in the industry represents a diverse and exciting career spanning years, roles and even countries.

Today, there’s no limit to where a job on the shop floor could end up leading – from unique career development initiatives to giving back and having a positive impact on the world.

As a global business operating in 19 countries, the Cotton On Group says the need to attract and retain great talent across all levels of the business is front of mind for the company.

Moving beyond the structured pathway programs; COG says targeted global recruitment drives and tactics to ‘future proof’ its talent pool of 22,000 people globally, will be key in building and nurturing the retailer’s team.

Jo Barr, global careers manager for the Cotton On Group, is confident in the business’ ability to maintain the momentum of its talent strategy and continue supporting its growth.

“Having worked for other global retailers and seeing other environments, I know what we have to offer is really unique – whether that’s working in store or in a role within one of our six head offices,” she says.

“The culture, the opportunities and the programs we provide for our teams are like no other – we truly put our people first and genuinely want to give them an experience they will take with them for life.”

 Start here, go anywhere

The sheer range and number of opportunities that retail can offer is exemplified by a global business like Cotton On Group.

A business model which distinctly favours in-house capabilities over out-sourced resources has unlocked a diverse suite of roles within the group’s operations. Couple this with a growing footprint and head offices located in six markets and there’s no doubt that the global retailer makes for a unique proposition in the market.

Barr says the business’ sustained success on an international scale is challenging people to see a career in retail in a new light.

“We have a ‘start here, go anywhere’ attitude at the group, and we really mean it. Our business has so many examples of people who may have started in one country or one role, then moved to another, then to another – the opportunities are as far and as wide as people want to take them,” she says.

Brad Rowland is one of many team members at the group who started on the shop floor while studying and went on to pursue a career in the industry after discovering a real passion for retail.

“When I joined the group in 2000, it was a small business with only 33 stores in Victoria and Western Australia. At that time, Nigel (Cotton On Group founder & owner) was doing everything himself…his drive was like a machine,” Rowland says.

In the sixteen years that followed, “bloody hard work” has seen Rowland progress through a range of roles including store manager, area manager, operations manager and Cotton On Group national retail manager.

In early-2017, Brad was approached by the business to move into the newly created position of head of outlets for Cotton On – a behind-the-scenes role that encompasses buying, planning and marketing.

“The business has always been incredibly supportive of my development and saw an opportunity to grow my skills,” Rowland said.

“Senior members of our business are incredibly passionate about growing their teams and developing leaders for the future and my career progression at the group is a great example of that.”

Creating a learning culture

Barr adds that an increased focus from universities and training and education institutions on the retail industry is helping to build interest among graduates looking to start their career.

Capturing this increased interest and offering effective pathways into the industry has been the catalyst behind a number of initiatives put in place by the group’s recruitment and careers team.

Earlier this year, in partnership with Deakin University, the group launched its first graduate program aimed at attracting and nurturing talent in the areas of merchandise planning and allocation

“As a business, we’ve set ourselves some big goals for the next 10 to 20 years, and are committed to adequately resourcing our teams to help us achieve these goals. Merchandise planning and allocation are areas where we believe there is huge opportunity for growth, and are fundamental to supporting the expansion of our business both locally and internationally,” says Barr.

Another new initiative, aimed at existing employees, is the group’s international work experience program known as Adventureships. This program sees the group deploy retail team members from across the globe to support various international shopping events such as Black Friday in the United States and Chinese New Year – providing them with invaluable in-market experience.

The group have pioneered learning and development programs for a number of years – launching their $30 million educational platform, COG Uni, back in 2013.

More recently, COG Uni has launched YOU Learning – an online education tool aimed at promoting personal and professional growth and fostering career development.

Developed by a specialist team at the group’s headquarters, YOU Learning consists of over 1,000 learning bites which cater to all levels of the business including retail, distribution and head office. The URL-based platform is easily accessible to the group’s 22,000 people and covers topics including ‘culture and values’, ‘lead and manage others’ and ‘supply chain and planning.

Not just a career

COG is a firm believer that its responsibility as a global fashion retailer goes far beyond just selling clothes and as a result it is committed to giving its team members the opportunity to give back and have a positive impact on communities around the world.

Through the support of its people and customers, the group’s philanthropic arm, the Cotton On Foundation, has raised $60 million since 2007 – funding a host of healthcare, education, infrastructure and sustainability projects in Southern Uganda, Thailand, South Africa and Australia.

With ambitious plans for the future, the COG says it is a firm believer in developing leaders for the future, and will continue to invest in people’s personal and professional development to support the company’s continued growth.

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