If your contribution has been vital there will always be somebody to pick up where you left off, and that will be your claim to immortality.
The elixir of youth having proved somewhat elusive the hard facts must be faced: none of us are getting any younger and we need to be bringing younger talent into the industry.
This is neither rocket science nor news – it’ something we’ve been banging on about on BMJ years, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still be.
There are countless industries out there for school-leavers, college and university graduates to aspire to. Why should they look at this one?
You only have to look at the people who have risen to the top in merchanting to see that there are enormous opportunities for career progression, and not just for those whose surname happens to match the name above the door.
There’s also a huge variety of careers within the sector from IT to merchandising, from sales management to marketing, from logistics to finance and accounting. Not very career has to start with a broom in ones hand on a cold and windy yard, although I can think of some very successful merchants whose career trajectory started exactly there.
Getting the message out that merchanting is as much of a modern-day, fast-moving, rewarding industry in the same way that retail management or electronics are. Back in the day when I was pondering my post-edi0ucation options, the impress-the-neighbours job options here if you could get on the Marks and Spencer or John Lewis management training programmes, or the BBC’s or ICIs. Wouldn’t it be great if the phrase “my daughter’s just got a job on a builders merchants apprenticeship scheme” were followed by an impressed “ooh, that sounds interesting” rather than a “oh. And what’s that exactly – is she going to be a builder?”.
The BMF’s youth recruitment campaign aims to improve our image and is doing sterling work; the Worshipful Company has been out there aiming to increase the industry’s visibility (the float at the Lord Mayor’s Show next weekend will definitely help, especially if it gets on the telly again) and a couple of years ago NMBS was really pushing its members to take up more apprentices.
All this activity is actually working, if the awards night at BMF Members day was anything to go by. Organising the Young Merchant and Young Supplier Achiever awards means I am privileged to see some of the hugely impressive talents that we do have working in the industry. The three or four that leave the event clutching their shiny trophies are, really, truly, just the tip of the iceberg. It’s always massively impressive to see just how much talent there is. We need to nurture it and develop it and augment it further with even more fresh faces.
One of the things that I am constantly hearing about this industry is about the huge amount of experience and expertise that most people working in the branches have and that this is what keeps the customers coming back. Experience and knowledge, put together with fresh ideas and enthusiasm can, if done right, be a knockout combination. Get the formula right and there’ll be careers advisors banging down the doors to get their pupils in to merchanting. Maybe.