'University of John Lewis' aims to professionalise retail with degree-level qualifications

High street retailer John Lewis has launched a new range of vocational qualifications for its staff as part of an effort to professionalise retail jobs.

The so-called University of John Lewis will help staff to obtain externally recognised professional qualifications and further their careers, the retail giant believes.

By the end of this year the company will be piloting its first Level 6 vocational qualification, equivalent to an honours degree.

The new qualification, which is the latest of several qualifications on offer to the John Lewis workforce, is designed for employees or "partners" at the company who are in senior management positions.

Qualifications ranging from entry level up to Level 5 are already being offered by the company.

Late last year saw the launch of the John Lewis apprenticeship programme, on which 80 members of staff have so far enrolled to work towards a Level 2 or 3 qualification.

A total of 2,160 John Lewis partners applied for a vocational qualification of one kind or another last year, with 1,330 achieving a retail diploma.

There will also be a skills programme incorporated into the initiative, offering various other development opportunities such as training in line management, product knowledge and leadership skills.

John Lewis personnel director Laura Whyte said the idea that retail does not offer long-term career opportunities is an outdated view.

"Our partners give us our competitive edge, and if we want them to stay with us for the long term, we need to make sure that they have the right skills to meet the challenges we face in an evolving retail environment," she said.

With 84,700 staff working across 39 John Lewis stores and 290 branches of Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership is the biggest co-ownership in the UK.

Copyright Press Association 2013