The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smile ’n’ serve block slows retail roll

Wanted: smart, young 20-somethings with attitude and drive and a flair for communication. An all-weather smile is more winning than impressive CVs here, and the monthly pay-packet can swell to Rs 25,000 in less than two years...

Suddenly, there are opportunities aplenty, but takers few. For, the Calcutta youth is just not ready to ride the retail wave.

With more than 800,000 sq ft of built retail space coming up in the city over the next three years, this high-growth, manpower-intensive sector has been picked by consulting major McKinsey as a thrust area. But try telling that to the young Calcuttan.

“Retail is perhaps the fastest growing service segment in Calcutta, and a top employment generator. But unfortunately, the youngsters here haven’t woken up to its possibilities. The mindset of the average graduate in Calcutta exploring job opportunities is radically different from his/her counterpart in Mumbai or Bangalore, and retail still figures way down on the preference scale,” laments Purandar Chaudhuri, head of human resources, Café Coffee Day.

The coffee retail chain, set to roll out 10-12 outlets in the city soon, has been forced to fly in start-up staff from Delhi for its first stop on Rawdon Street, after a “not-so-encouraging response” from local candidates.

“There is something in the educated Bengali mindset which holds them back from a shop-floor job. It’s probably pride and vanity, as many still feel this is a menial job and a last resort,” says Chaudhuri.

Some existing retail players are also struggling to meet their manpower requirements. Landmark CEO Gautam Jatia agrees that there’s a “stigma” attached to a retail floor job here. “The educational profile of the applicants is among the best in the country. But once they learn they will have to dust the racks, receive customers with a smile and won’t get a chair to sit on the job, most of them fail to show up for the interview,” he explains.

Clearly, a dearth of trained staff could be a major roadblock in the retail revolution, forcing firms to either ‘import’ staff or curtail expansion plans. “It’s time the youth of Calcutta realised the huge potential of retail and grew up to such service jobs. Sadly, the few who want to excel in this profession are moving out to other metros. This drain is creating a big vacuum in retail manpower, just when the industry is set to take off here,” says MusicWorld regional manager Dipra Jha.

With big players like Shoppers’ Stop poised to enter the Calcutta mega mart, the need of the hour is quality education programmes in retail management skills to address the growing demand. “Colleges should recognise the career potential of retail and offer specialised courses at graduate level,” suggests Jha.

The Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) national committee on retailing is ready to play a part. “We are keen to offer technical expertise and even course material to educational institutions wanting to introduce retail management courses,” says Anuj Puri, member of the CII national retailing panel.

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