The move signals the group's strategic commitment to investing in and nurturing talent in the industry.
The 'Aspire2Accelerate' training programme, which has been developed as a joint investment with UDC, will comprise three higher education level qualifications targeted at all career stages from sales advisor through to area manager.
Each completed phase of work-based learning will contribute credits towards the achievement of a full university degree in retail management. It is hoped it will enable Aurora to create a visible career path for front line retail teams both within the brands and across the group, and importantly to identify and nurture a skilled talent pool ready for deployment into critical retail management roles.
Following a two-month national application process for the first level of the fast track programme, regional roll out among successful candidates will commence throughout July, starting in London today. It will see up to 150 learners from the Coast, Oasis and Warehouse brands participate in a year-long course, which is partly fulfilled via an e-learning portal, to gain a University Certificate in Retail Management.
In an industry sector renowned for high staff churn, Aurora hopes the scheme will help the brands to continue to attract and retain the best talent in fashion retailing; research* among Aurora store managers found 93% could easily identify a talented individual in their team who would be keen to undertake a work-based qualification with a view to developing a career in retail. It will also help strengthen management and succession planning across the group.
Julia Durbin, Aurora's people and organisational development director, said: "At a brand and a group level, we're very proud of our heritage of investing in talent. We're fortunate enough to attract some of the best talent around but believe that, in order to keep and grow our people, we need to offer the opportunities afforded in other industries."
Meg Lustman, MD of Warehouse, added: "Against a backdrop of youth unemployment and significant industry job losses, we hope Aspire2Accelerate will inspire existing staff, and those considering entering the industry, to be ambitious about a long-term career in the fast paced world of fashion retail."
Warehouse, like the other Aurora brands, deploys a number of talent initiatives already. For example, for the last four years, the brand has partnered with the British Fashion Council to find a promising new design student to join its annual graduate apprenticeship scheme. This gives an up and coming new design talent the opportunity to participate in the development of a complete collection, and to showcase and sell their debut collection in Warehouse stores.
British Retail Consortium director general, Stephen Robertson, added: "With jobs in short supply, it's important to recognise that retail is one of the sectors most likely to provide an entry point to the world of work and to celebrate the many retailers who invest in turning those job breaks into successful long-term careers. BRC figures show that the sector invests an average £1,275 per employee per year in training and development, more than either manufacturing or financial services. That's good news for those individuals, because many CEOs have turned a start on the shop floor into a place in the boardroom, and for future employers,the economy and society more widely."
Paul Wilkinson, head of client partnerships at UDC, said: "We're delighted to have been able to partner with Aurora to offer work-based learning to higher education level for existing employees. The programme combines academic, theory and work-based knowledge with vocational skill development and is a great way to begin a university degree pathway to support career progression."