Woolworths rings up $50m digital upskilling

Published on the 17/02/2021 | Written by Heather Wright

Woolworths training_future of work

Tech transformation needs staff to match…

Woolworths Group, and its New Zealand subsidiary Countdown, have launched an AU$50 million Future of Work fund to upskill its staff in the face of retail transformation, with the learnings to be shared across the wider retail and service market.

The new fund comes as the retail sector undergoes rapid change and will see more than 60,000 Woolworths Group staff across its store and e-commerce operations, supply chain network and support office undergoing training across both technology and skills such as advanced customer service, team leadership and agile ways of working.

“While these changes push our industry forward, they’re also changing the nature of work.”

Digital, data analytics, machine learning and robots will be key technical focus areas for the training, which will include the launch of an online learning platform.

A Countdown New Zealand spokesperson confirmed to iStart that the Future of Work fund includes the New Zealand business.

“Making sure our team members are equipped for what the future holds is really important to us,” the spokesperson says. “At the moment we’re just working through what this might look like for us here in Aotearoa, so it’s a bit early for further details but we’re excited about how it might come to life.”

While the program is being built for Woolworth’s needs, the company stressed the knowledge will be shared across retail and other service industries to hep support economy-wide upskilling and training programs.

The Future of Work fund launch comes as sectors, and economies, around the world grapple with the issue of digital upskilling.

The recent Digital Skills Aotearoa survey found a dramatic ‘mismatch’ of digital skills in New Zealand and called for companies to do more to support the training of their own staff in digital skills.

Brad Banducci, Woolworths Group CEO says globally retail is changing at the fastest pace seen in many decades.

Australia’s largest private employer, with more than 200,000 staff across Australia, the supermarket giant has seen a big swing to online ordering and click and collect, rolling out automated micro-fulfilment centres in Australia and New Zealand using robots to sort and move products directly to the company’s ‘personal shoppers’ to fulfil orders faster. Data and analytics are also increasingly being harnessed for insight-driven decision making, while the company’s Scan&Go self-service offering also harnesses AI and image recognition.

The Fund includes money for reskilling staff to take on technical and supervisory roles with robotics and automation in new distribution centres.

“Technological advances in automation, predictive analytics, AI and cloud computing are making core retail processes much faster and more efficient than ever before,” Banducci says.

“While these changes push our industry forward for the better, they’re also changing the nature of the day to day work many of our people do,” he says.
“The Future of Work fund is designed to equip our team members with new skills and capabilities that will not only serve their career within Woolworths, but across a number of industries.”

For Woolworths staff it means upskilling, reskilling and potential redeployments – including those of team members affected by the planned closures of Minchinbury, Yennora and Mulgrave sites – but Banducci says despite the technological change he believes Woolworths will have ‘many more’ people working in the business by 2030.

“Where they work and what they do will change,” he says. “There will be a much stronger emphasis on service and personal interactions with customers, which will be good for customers and our business.”

The funding for those impacted by the planned closures of Woolworths sites, due to take place by 2025, will enable team members to pursue redeployment within Woolworths or for careers outside the company, Woolworths says.

The Fund will also include service training for ‘tens of thousands’ of team members to focus on differentiated service and improved ‘in-store theatre for customers’, with the company expecting to hire and train ‘thousands’ of new online team members to assist with ecommerce growth.

Training programs for staff to upskill in advanced analytics will also be offered.

Partnerships with key learning institutions and stakeholders are expected to be formalised over the coming months.

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