Commitment to Staff Development

Winner: Whitehall Garden Centre.

Whitehall Garden Centre is a fifth-generation family business that started in 1894 and today has two centres - one based in the village of Lacock and the other in Whitchurch, Bristol.

With more than 200 employees, Whitehall provides industry-leading training for all staff in all areas of the business. All new employees take part in an induction morning where they learn about the company's history, values and goals.

Within the first three months of their employment, staff also take part in garden retail online workshops. As part of this training, they learn about customer service, retail initiatives and health and safety in the workplace. The workshops not only assists them in their role but also prepare them for the retail industry.

With more than 25 training programmes and workshops, employees are invited to develop their skills further depending on which department they work in and how they would like to further their own career. With workshops including lifting safety, communication skills and basic first aid, employees are given the opportunity to focus their training on the specific areas they would like to develop.

After employees complete the basic training programme, each department is required to take part in online workshops specific to their department or industry.

Employees in Whitehall's restaurants are provided with food hygiene training, designed to further their knowledge of food-handling safety, special dietary requirements, allergies and contamination issues. They also receive training on the effects that allergies have on the body. They are taught how allergies should be displayed on labels and which of the centre's foods have allergens.

Customer service assistants take part in specific online workshops aimed at improving their customer service skills and developing their communication skills.

Mystery shoppers are another technique used for training staff because it identifies areas where they need to improve. Whitehall uses a mystery shopper with a hidden camera at both centres so it can use the experience as a learning tool.

Furniture/seasonal department employees get regular visits from the suppliers to learn new skills about maximising displays as well offering help on the features and benefits of the collections and products. Staff also go on training days to learn more about the products and how to maximise sales. Employees in the barbecue department participate on Weber awaydays where they gain valuable skills needed to help them further understand the products.

Whitehall has a strong belief in internships and apprentice schemes. In 2015 it started a new initiative working with local universities to offer an undergraduate a one-year paid work placement in the marketing and events department. This not only shows commitment to staff and training but outstanding commitment to staff development.

The garden centre is also committed to apprentice schemes and invests in training for young students who are leaving school and just starting out on their career. Whitehall has provided this in The Orangery Restaurant, providing hands-on training for students who have since joined the company full-time.

Whitehall offers staff the opportunity to spend time in both its garden centres. This helps to build better relationships and improves staff training by giving employees a greater degree of exposure across different retail environments.

Many employees have been with the company for years, working their way up through departments and through different roles. Whitehall provides its staff with career opportunities to senior and managerial roles. This shows how it is committed to improving employee knowledge and career development. Staff also receive further training once they become managers to better prepare them for their roles.

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