Kate Salmon on the Scottish Wholesale Association’s mentoring scheme

The SWA’s mentoring scheme has helped members to plan for negotiations and identify and control the balance of power, writes Kate Salmon

Training is a word that tends to get bandied about our industry and while it is encouraging that people are talking about developing their staff, it is our firm belief that such an important functional area of a wholesaler’s business deserves to be much higher up the agenda.
Scottish wholesale association
Kate Salmon, executive director of the Scottish Wholesale Association

As one of the Scottish Wholesale Association’s (SWA) key ‘pillars’, training is playing an increasingly significant role for us. Indeed, in recent years, we have liaised closely with our members to provide the courses, workshops and seminars that they deem necessary and relevant.

A turning point for the SWA was our decision to hand over our training service to our colleagues at 121 HR Solutions where one of the firm’s principal consultants, Sandie Holmes, now manages and develops the programme in close association with us. This change in strategy has resulted in many more members participating in the programme.

But we need to keep developing it. Two years ago, we launched our much-lauded mentoring initiative, designed to improve skills and nurture emerging talent in the Scottish wholesale industry. It’s proved a runaway success, attracting ambitious individuals working in the key areas of buying, sales and management, who are then partnered with mentors.

Two years on, we continue to receive applications for our mentoring programme. Crucially for employers, the programme is structured around the needs of the business so it happens in the workplace. It has also been carefully designed to allow individuals to realise their own capabilities and potential, so matching people with suitable mentors forms a critical part of the process. Again, we have outsourced this to 121 HR Resources.

At our 2014 conference, two of our mentees – Paul Dickson of Booker and JW Filshill’s Stuart Harrison – will be speaking about their experiences together with one of the mentors – ­Graham Benson, former co-owner of the Bellevue wholesale business in ­Edinburgh.

[pull_quote_right]At our 2014 conference, two of our mentees – Paul Dickson of Booker and JW Filshill’s Stuart Harrison – will be speaking about their experiences[/pull_quote_right]

The vision of our immediate past-president George Benson, the mentoring programme has set out to identify talent and retain that talent in our industry. Investing in our people builds trust and helps achieve better results. What’s more, the return on investment for wholesalers will also be evident as they see their managers develop and grow.

This year, the programme has continued to pick up pace with the delivery of the Essential Negotiator, an intense two-day residential workshop in partnership with Mars Chocolate and The Gap Partnership. This course offered just 12 places and took place in Edinburgh at the end of April.

The workshop’s objective was to develop delegates’ skills to help them be stronger negotiators. It focused on key areas – how to prepare and plan for negotiations, how to identify and control the balance of power, and how to question and listen to others, with the facilitator, Mars Chocolate’s sales training manager Aron Adams, spending time on each of these areas.

Members attending included JW Filshill, CJ Lang, United Wholesale Grocers, Sutherland Brothers, Batleys, United Wholesale (Scotland) and Bestway.

We believe we are leading the way when it comes to innovation and creativity in training. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution and this is especially true with regards to the SWA, which has a very broad membership comprising global, multinational companies and independent, family-owned businesses.

But we have found that even for those larger companies with their own in-house training facilities, there is still a role for the SWA and we will continue to develop our training in close collaboration with all our members and the suppliers who support us.


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