How Debenhams Bullring is doing its bit for Birmingham’s jobseekers

A new approach to recruitment could be rolled out across Debenhams stores nationwide after the scheme proved so successful at the Bullring store.

Debenhams Bullring launched its Work Inspiration programme last year and since then 82 people have been offered placements and training.

Out of those 82 people the store has recruited 51 into permanent positions, creating a 62 per cent success rate.

Several of those taken on by Debenhams are experienced department store employees who have worked in a retail environment for many years but fell victim to the high-profile closure of BHS and its Birmingham New Street branch.

BHS closed its doors for the final time in August 2016 after an 88-year presence on UK high streets, with more than 11,000 people affected by the chain going into administration.

Debenhams’ Work Inspiration scheme, supported by the Job Centre, was spearheaded by Debenhams Bullring Store Manager Rob Miller.

Rob joined Debenhams at Bullring 18 months ago after holding similar positions at the group’s Walsall and Lichfield stores.

He is passionate about helping the local jobs market and believes the Work Inspiration scheme benefits the wider city centre retail sector, in addition to filling much-needed vacancies at Debenhams.

“During my time at Debenhams in Walsall we researched a government scheme to get people back into work,” explained Rob.

“The Government funds 30 hours of an eight-week store placement through the Job Centre.

Rob Miller (second from right) with Nick Brand, Senior Store Manager (centre) celebrate with staff during the graduates’ day

“It ran successfully there with a smaller take-up so when I came to Birmingham we looked at how we could implement the scheme in a flagship store environment.”

After transferring to Birmingham Rob contacted the Job Centre once again, which was supportive of launching the scheme in Birmingham.

Rob’s first intake at Bullring was to help fill Christmas vacancies and with the support of local Job Centres 25 people were successful; all of whom attended an assessment to make sure they were the right candidates to represent Debenhams.

“We offered them an eight-week programme and viewed it as a 50/50 partnership,” added Rob.

“Our commitment is to make sure we train them and give them all the resources they need to get them back into work.

“I attended the inductions for all 25 people and stressed the need to be punctual, willing to learn and deliver the service expectations of Debenhams.

“If they did that I guaranteed them a job at the end of it.”

Each of the trainees are assigned to a store ‘buddy’ and has a weekly review to consider any issues.

The trainees are coached in price alignments and customer service, among other skills.

“We wanted to make sure they get a rounded experience,” added Rob.

“Some of the people had been out of work for two or three years so to be a part of a team meant so much to them.

“Having a ‘buddy’ partner enables us to pick up any issues on a weekly basis so I was confident by the time we got to the end of the programme we would be ok.

“We took 18 on from that pre-Christmas intake, all at the Birmingham store.

“It helped us to have people who could go straight into jobs to support the busy Christmas period.

“From those 18 pre-Christmas starters seven are still with us to this day. Others have used the experience gained on the placements to find work at other city centre stores, which is great.

“One of our trainees now carries out audits for us and does a really great job.

“We had a trainee working with our visual team over Christmas and they really added something to the look of the store.

“Bearing in mind some of these people have been out of work and on jobseekers’ allowance for two or three years, it’s a great achievement.”

After the completion of the first programme a HR Director from Debenhams head office visited the Bullring store with a representative from Birmingham City Council for a graduates’ day.

“Our HR Director congratulated the trainees and presented them with a certificate,” added Rob.

“It was then we were able to tell them they had a permanent job. They were absolutely delighted.

“Some of them had been struggling lately and they were in tears to find out they had a job. I’m so glad we were able to offer some support.”