Kate Salmon explains how the Scottish Wholesale Association training courses will help nurture the industry’s top talent through training
People often ask what trade associations are for and whether they are still relevant in the 21st century. Many view organisations such as ours as stuck in the past, while others think we’re ‘just a talking shop’. So our challenge is to sweep away these incorrect perceptions and be very clear on what our focus is.
For the Scottish Wholesale Association, there is no misunderstanding about our role. We are the official trade association for Scotland’s food and drink wholesaling businesses and perform six vital functions: liaison between our members, suppliers, and the wider food and drink trade; lobbying; legislation; training; and running our two main events – Scottish Wholesale Achievers and our annual conference.
They’re all important but I specifically want to focus on training because we’ve made particular strides in this area. We’ve always run training courses and workshops for our members, but four years ago, we took the decision to draw more attention to wholesaling and make it a world-class industry. And so our mentoring programme was born.
Its aim is to improve skills, nurture current and potential emerging talent, and identify future industry leaders. Ambitious? Yes. The initiative was groundbreaking when we launched it back in 2012, but I believe it was long overdue. Investing in our people builds trust and helps achieve better results. We need people with the right attitude and skills to create the world-class industry we aspire to be.
We need to keep people in wholesale and do everything we can to tell them that this is an exciting industry with excellent long-term prospects. So our focuses at the moment are the key areas of buying, sales and management. What’s clever about this mentoring programme is the way it is structured around the needs of the business. It takes place within the workplace so there is minimal disruption for employers.
We are currently working with six mentees. Each has been carefully matched to a mentor and the two parties will typically engage for around 12 to 18 months. Our training partner, 121 HR Solutions, monitors proceedings through a quarterly governance programme, and we’ve found it interesting that many of our previous mentees and mentors have chosen to remain in contact after the formal mentoring relationship concluded.
Meanwhile, another important development for us this year has been our sponsorship of seven of our members’ staff to participate in The Gap Partnership’s ‘complete skilled negotiator’, a three-and-a-half day residential programme designed to help ambitious individuals adopt a skill set and attitudes that will serve them and their companies’ commercial goals.
The Gap Partnership is widely regarded as the world’s leading negotiation consultancy and it was a big investment for us – £40,000 – but one we were willing to make for the future of our industry. Each of the seven delegates had previously completed the ‘essential negotiator’ course – the precursor to this more advanced one – and was accepted following a stringent application process amid tough competition.
There’s clearly an appetite for this type of top-level training and it’s encouraging that our members are prepared to allow their most ambitious individuals to progress their careers in this way. Similarly, members have continued to support our rolling training programme, which has focused on the areas they have identified as important – growing category sales, for example, and coaching in first-line manager skills, targeted at new managers, aspiring managers and newly-promoted team leaders.
This year, we have already held a well-attended first-line manager skills workshop and the forthcoming programme includes customer service excellence and presentation skills. We’re also greatly encouraged that the programme is used by wholesalers of all sizes: Bestway Batleys, Bidvest Foodservice Scotland, Booker, Dunns Food and Drinks, Gordon & MacPhail, JB Foods, JW Filshill, Sugro, United Wholesale Grocers, United Wholesale (Scotland), William Yule and Son, and Wine Importers.
In Scotland, food and drink wholesalers operate 78 depots and employ 6,900 people, generating more than £3bn a year. It is our job to nurture their skills as we strive to enhance our sector’s role as a key contributor to the Scottish economy.