There are many opportunities for a career in the retail industry in Fort McMurray. While moving up within a company has always been possible, now more than ever, retail companies are offering more benefits and better pay to hold onto their valuable staff.
In the last few years, retail jobs in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) have become more appealing than ever. Starting wages have increased, and more companies now offer health and other benefits. Many benefits are now offered that years ago one would only see for a mid- or upper-level position.
The retail industry includes businesses that sell goods or merchandise in small or individual products for direct use by the consumer. According to Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS), the retail trade industry across Alberta is expected to grow by a yearly average of 1.3 per cent, employing over 220,000 people in 2010. Locally, the RMWB Labour Force Projections by Industry and Occupation 2007 to 2009, predicts an average increase of 5.2 per cent in jobs in the Retail Trade Industry, or about 170 new jobs in the next two years (not including turnover). The number of retail salespersons and sales clerks in Alberta is expected to increase by almost 10,000 by 2010, and a supply shortage of cashiers is forecasted by 2008.
Retailers in Fort McMurray are already seeing a shortage of workers and finding that turnover is very high. They find that some people take retail jobs until a higher paying job in the oilsands comes along.
Gordon Petruk, manager at Canada Safeway in Fort McMurray, says they are looking to fill almost any position they have in the store. Employers are having a hard time hiring staff with previous experience, such as experienced meat cutters, journeyman bakers, or someone with supervisory experience.
“We have a store of about 180 employees. We hired over 400 people last year, and we also lost over 400 last year,” says Petruk. “If we get six months out of someone, we’re doing really good. That’s the turnover here. We lose a person every day—and we hire someone every day. We have a policy now that if someone brings in an application, I am called to the desk immediately to do an interview. If you wait and call them back in a couple of days, they’ve already found a job elsewhere.”
One of the things employers are doing to attract and retain workers is paying higher wages. Starting as a cashier in a smaller store, an employee will make at least $10 per hour. For larger stores, such as Canada Safeway and Canadian Tire, starting wages are around $13 per hour. Many retailers are offering full health benefits, which are free for the employees, and some even provide pensions. Signing bonuses are also common.
There are many opportunities available in retail for someone who likes to work with people and enjoys a social atmosphere. Canada Safeway in Fort McMurray is a fast-paced environment. Orientation for front-line staff includes training such as programs to help staff deal with all kinds of customers.
Successful benefits can attract workers
Frank Saraka, who has been owner of Canadian Tire in Fort McMurray for just over a year, says the previous owner had a yearly turnover of over 430 people. To decrease that turnover, he’s increased wages by 20 to 25 per cent, provides health club memberships and provides full health benefits. To attract senior staff, he has done such things as providing personal and housing loans, paid for moving expenses and even included flights back home throughout the year for some staff.
“Some of these strategies work to a limited degree and some do not,” says Saraka. “We have cut our turnover to 204 this first year (from over 430). It’s a big improvement, but we’d like to get it down to 100.”
Moving on up
An advantage to working in the retail industry is that you can start in an entry-level position and work your way up—in fact, many employers prefer hiring a manager from within, rather than getting someone from outside the company. Training comes in the form of on-the-job training, or some companies, such as Canadian Tire, have e-learning programs, where employees have the choice of hundreds of courses and get paid for the time it takes to do them.
“We carry about 70,000 items in our store on a year-round basis, so it’s pretty hard to become an expert on all of those products overnight,” says Saraka.
“The e-learning certainly gives people a foundation on which to build. We have courses for everything, from basic store operational procedures to product knowledge.”
People change their job focus many times in their working lifetime. Retail offers the advantage of allowing employees to move laterally, especially in a large store or chain, and try different areas of work or even departments in the company. Generally positions involve customer service, but there are also behind-the-scenes jobs such as working in the distribution department or the warehouse.
You could also decide to work in retail based on your interests. Helen Arong, owner of Helen Arong Fine Fashion looks for staff with an interest in fashion.
“I do have a hard time finding the right person—a person that loves fashion,” says Arong. She added that she is looking for employees either with experience working with clothing in a retail environment, or someone who may not have experience, but loves fashion and is willing to learn.
“A person that does well with us is someone who can give good one-on-one service to customers and be honest with them.”
The retail industry has changed over the years. Now you can find companies that sell products while also providing a service, such as Chatters Canada, a salon and store in one. The new Chatters store in Fort McMurray is 2,800 square feet and 80 per cent of the store is retail, while the remaining is salon space.
All of the employers interviewed said you have to like working with the public if you want to work in a front-line retail position.
Some personal characteristics you should have are:
- good oral and written communication skills,
- the ability to work under pressure and stay calm,
- the ability to get along with all kinds of people and remain courteous, patient and tactful when dealing with difficult customers,
- the ability to calculate prices quickly and accurately,
- knowledge of the products being sold.
Reitmans Canada is opening a new store at Clearwater Landing this month. They are hiring a manager and 20 sales associates and are looking for people that have excellent customer services skills, previous fashion retail experience, initiative, and ability to work well with a production team.
“As a customer service specialist with Chatters, I look for team players that have outstanding people skills, excellent listening skills and energetic personalities,” says Nicole Kopp, with Chatters Canada. “Our customers are our guests. We want to ensure when they visit Chatters, they are made to feel pampered and appreciated.”
There are no standard education requirements for entry-level positions, such as a retail sales person, retail shelf stockers, or cashiers, but for full-time positions, employers generally look for employees that have their high school diploma.
Those who have post-secondary education have a greater opportunity for advancement to supervisory and management positions, but a post-secondary education is by no means the only way to move up. (See the article “Advancing from within” on page 5 for more information on moving up within a company.)
Where the jobs are found
Jobs in the retail industry can be found in a number of places. Your best option is to take a stack of your résumés and go to the stores you would like to work in and ask for the manager. Don’t be afraid to go in if there isn’t a sign or job advertisement. They may be too busy, or an employee may have just given their notice.
Also try the local newspaper and job boards found at some of the employment service providers in Fort McMurray.
Online, retail jobs can be found at www.jobbank.gc.ca or one of the general job sites, such as www.monster.com or www.workopolis.ca.