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‘No team member left behind’: Woolworths chief’s vision for retail jobs of the future

That’s an exciting prospect on many levels, but it also creates uncertainty. As Australia’s largest private employer, we want to lead this transition and ensure no team member is left behind by the wave of change we are all riding.

It’s why we’ve announced the establishment of a new $50 million ‘Future of Work Fund’ to be rolled out over the next three years. This fund will help us equip our team with new skills and capabilities, and will supplement our existing investment in training and development.

In 2009 – when we completed the self-service rollout – we employed 113,000 people in our Australian supermarkets. Today, we employ around 140,000.

The key focus will be in digital, advanced analytics, machine learning and robotics, with further investment slated for advanced customer service skills and agile ways of working.

We are also offering funding for vocational training for team members impacted by our previously announced warehouse closures at Minchinbury, Yennora and Mulgrave. This will allow team members to learn new skills for other roles in our business or seek specific training to launch a career outside our business.

The spectre of technological change is often met with pessimism. The advent of self-service checkouts is a good example. When we first introduced them many predicted it would lead to a major decline in employment in our stores, but that hasn’t happened.

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In 2009 – when we completed the self-service rollout – we employed 113,000 people in our Australian supermarkets. Today, we employ around 140,000, and the number continues to grow.

Indeed, the fastest-growing role in our business is one that didn’t exist in 2009. It’s that of the online personal shopper and at Christmas we had around 25,000 of them hand picking orders for our customers.

In December, we opened our first ‘eStore’ in Melbourne with automated micro-fulfilment technology to assist our team to pick more online orders faster than ever before. This created 170 new jobs, including highly specialised roles to manage the robotics system. The demand for these types of technical skills will only continue to grow as e-commerce accelerates.

Since we opened our first store in the Imperial Arcade of Sydney in 1924, Woolworths has offered employment opportunities to more than one million Australians. And while much has changed in our business since then, people have remained at the heart of our endeavour throughout. As we approach our centenary, the Future of Work Fund should help in setting us on the path to employ one million more Australians, helping build a better tomorrow for generations to come.

Brad Banducci is the chief executive of Woolworths.

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