China’s talent shortage has been a big headache for Western retailers. The requirements for good customer service far surpass what local talent pools can provide. To combat the problem, many brands have launched their own talent development programs.

Along with its 100th store opening in Beijing, Starbucks also announced the launch of the Starbucks China University. Starbucks China University is a virtual university with a focus on the personal and career development of Starbucks partners across the 700 stores throughout Mainland China. “Our partners are at the heart and soul of our signature Starbucks Experience, and also the cornerstone of Starbucks success. It is therefore critical that Starbucks continues to invest in their development, share with them the company’s success, and set them up for future growth and development,” says Belinda Wong, president of Starbucks China. “These investments are critical as we work to achieve our ambitious goals and future aspirations in China.”

Starbucks China University’s curriculum encompasses a broad range of areas and functions, including coffee knowledge and culture training, retail and related functional training, as well as leadership competency. There are more than 200 different training modules at various levels through the organization. The University is also seeking to collaborate with local academic institutions and government agencies to strengthen its value proposition and offerings in the market.

Richemont Group, the world’s second largest luxury conglomerate, opened its own Retail Academy in Shanghai earlier last year. The Academy’s curriculum includes professional skills and sales techniques taught by industry experts and guest lecturers. Students are also assigned market research tasks and are assessed for their sales and management abilities. Richemont will offer 5 nine-week courses per year, with each course having a cap of 50 students hand-picked by Richemont through a nationwide recruitment.

Other companies are also developing similar programs on smaller scales. Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently created a mentoring program for its Chinese workers. The program matches new employees with experienced managers and focuses on staff retention by building personal relationships. Starwood needs to find 30,000 new employees in the next 3 years to staff its planned 100 new hotels.

Versace also started a language training program this spring to help its Chinese workers improve their English skills so they can better communicate with upper management and one day become managers themselves. “We look to promote from within,” says Ms. Su from Versace. “That’s one way to find talent and keep it.”

For companies, China poses the dual challenge of aggressive expansion goals and an insufficient pool of talent to achieve them. But some brands are making inroads and taking the opportunity to breed a new shopping culture.


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