First Impressions Resources
First Impressions Resources, the Australian Retail College (FIR) is a medium sized privately owned registered training organisation (RTO) specialising in workplace-based training and assessment services to the retail industry. Managed by its owners, core values have sustained the business for over 20 years and are values shared by all stakeholders of the organisation, the owners, staff and clients. The Directors work in the business with specific areas of management responsibility. Management is consensual with significant input by staff, however the Directors recognise and accept their ultimate accountability for all areas.
Based in Brisbane with additional offices in Sydney and Melbourne, FIR employs retail specialist trainers and assessors in five states, delivering in all states and territories across Australia. Many staff are long term employees of FIR. A policy of employing only trainers with significant retail experience has helped to ensure an approach to training that is relevant to their clients and those clients' employees.
FIR delivers Retail Certificates II, III, IV and Diploma and have recently extended their scope to include Community Pharmacy Certificates II, III and IV, all from the SIR07 Retail Training Package. FIR also delivers Certificate IV in Frontline Management and Diploma of Management from the BSB07 Training Package and the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. FIR classify themselves as a small company yet they have 2,000 students engaged in training programs at any one time across Australia and this figure is growing each year.
The continued success of FIR according to Director, Sue Freeman, is centered on attracting and nurturing experienced people into the organisation and taking the time to find out what the client needs and wants. Sue also pointed out that FIR has stuck with considerable discipline to the core business of retail training and development. Indeed it was clear in talking to Sue that this disciplined approach is a key success factor for the organisation and allows FIR to work within a strategic and operational planning framework that identifies long and short term strategies. Further, FIR believes that strong financial management is a key element for any successful organisation and they have approached the financial management of the organisation with the same discipline that they bring to other areas of operations.
It is clear the organisation is practicing continuous incremental improvement. This notion of clear, continuous and measured growth in the organisation is a key attribute that has underpinned much of the success of FIR.
FIR's approach to new (and existing) clients is that of an innovative approach whereby they understand the need for flexibility and forward thinking when developing training programs that need to be effective in a highly competitive retail marketplace. For example, in 2007 Australian Pharmaceutical Industries (Priceline) approached FIR to become their new RTO. During the initial discussions between FIR and Priceline, FIR recognised that Priceline's internal training programs, although non-accredited, were of a high standard and thus FIR mapped these programs to relevant units from the Retail Training Package. A strategy for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) was put into place for these units and workplace-based training was then conducted for the remaining units in each qualification. Contributing to the success of this arrangement was the support created through joint communications and a marketing program and an alignment between training and succession planning.
Priceline saw an immediate improvement in the rate of successful completions and continuing students. The impact on FIR was a cemented relationship with their client, as well as continued development of FIR staff and management and an expansion into Community Pharmacy training.
FIR now plans to bring its innovative approach to training Job Seekers and in assisting them in pursuing a career in the Retail Industry.
Planning- the key to training in retail
FIR has not leapt into online learning but has devoted considerable effort and time to explore options available when they do move into an operational e-Learning sphere. For example, FIR have worked closely with one of their clients on an Industry e-Learning project, developing online learning and assessment resources in Health and Safety training that also align to a unit of competency. This has now been implemented within this client's intranet system and is used nationally. In 2007 FIR also customised the Retail CD toolbox for Certificates II, III and IV as an additional resource for their learners, particularly in areas that they might not be able to visit as regularly and also for school-based trainees who might prefer this mode of learning. Additionally, FIR has invested in a Learning Management System which has initially been used for delivery of professional development within the organisation and will consequently also develop the skills of their personnel in the use of these technologies. Overall the approach by FIR to technology is one of significant research and development and this signals that implementation will be effective and add value to the organisation.
The future of FIR is particularly strong with good management and administrative systems, an extremely sound financial approach and a clear understanding about where the organisation is going in the future. Recently FIR entered into an agreement with the University of Wollongong for the provision of Diploma and Post-Graduate qualifications in Retail Management, providing excellent opportunities for experienced retailers to develop their skills and meet the challenges of the increasingly competitive climate. The buy-in from industry has already been established with retail clients identifying linkages to staff retention and senior management training and enhancing their approach to succession planning.
It is the intention of the Directors to continue conservative expansion of the organisation and in the immediate term to consolidate its IT infrastructure and systems.
The client list for FIR reads like a Who's Who of the retail industry with Best & Less, Priceline, Tradelink, Toys R Us, Colorado, KFC QLD, Drake IGA Queensland and others who have, for the most part, been clients for longer than eight years. This strategic relationship is a noticeable component of the FIR success.
In summary, FIR has been successful because it has managed itself well; it has sought to understand its market, has maintained its focus on its core business and has set about with some discipline and diligence to achieve clear objectives. That is a formula that will work in any company, but for FIR it has been a success story par excellence.