My life as a trainee manager on the Lidl graduate scheme
When I was looking into future careers, I wanted something with a fast-growing company. I was attracted to Lidl in particular because of the nature of the opportunities on offer. I always say to current students and graduates that Lidl is perfect if you don’t know specifically what you want to do because you rotate around different teams. When I spoke to the graduate recruitment team initially, they told me that there was a lot of emphasis on development, with lots of feedback and reviews. This appealed to me because I always want to learn as much as possible.
I think it was this desire to learn that made me stand out during the recruitment process for both the placement year and graduate programme. I was asked by my placement interviewers what would separate me from other candidates. I answered that I wanted to continue learning for the rest of my career and had good feedback on that answer. For the graduate programme, I had an interview with the regional director and head of admin, in which we mostly focused on what I’d learned at university and through the placement.
Early management responsibility at Lidl
The graduate scheme comprises three rotations: sales (store management), logistics, and supply chain. So far I have spent six months in sales, three in logistics and I started in supply chain a couple of weeks ago. During my time in sales, I was part of a store management team, assisting with managing personnel and resolving issues such as sickness cover. I also helped out wherever was needed, for example jumping on the till.
A highlight of this rotation was being involved in the launch of the new store and seeing how all of the teams at Lidl – from HR to property – made it happen. It was great to be helping to get it finished, for example by ensuring new staff had appropriate training. The day before opening was full on, but when everyone gathered together at the end and the store manager thanked us for contributing, it meant a lot. I saw what difference we could make to people’s lives – both for customers and by creating jobs.
The logistics department is divided into three teams – products in, selection, and products out – and I was placed in selection and assisted the manager with overseeing around 140 people. I actually gained more management experience than was perhaps intended. Two-and-a-half months in, I came in to an email from my manager, saying he had a family emergency and asking me to run the team for a week. This involved supervising the warehouse team and I got involved with coaching and recruitment. I enjoyed managing people.
Attending the Academy: Lidl’s training and development
I’ve been given an awesome amount of structured development. When I was on the sales rotation, I was sent on the ‘Lidl Academy’, which involved being trained in detail on an aspect of operations – for example the bakery – before being sent to work in that area for the rest of the week. I’ve had good experiences to draw on when managing and have seen best practice in action because we are placed in a high-performing store. I also found the training on subjects such as conflict management and time management particularly useful.
Having a shared purpose
The best thing about working at Lidl is the people: it sounds ‘corporate’, but everyone works towards a shared purpose and cares about the end result. Even head office staff, such as HR, will tidy the stores when they visit. Everyone in the business is really approachable – I can walk into my regional director’s office at any time and he makes time for me, even though he is dealing with millions of pounds.
The reason for the success of the discount retailers is due to a focus on productivity and there are times when you feel as if you don’t have enough hours in the day to achieve everything – but ultimately it comes down to prioritising and Lidl is very helpful in setting out clear priorities. Retail does involve weekend work, which can affect your work/life balance, but you always get two days off a week and I can request two consecutive days if I want to ‘go home’ to family.
Relocation, relocation... to Runcorn
With Lidl you have to live within a commutable distance to one of its distribution centres. I lived about 90 minutes away from the Runcorn centre and so relocated to Warrington, moving into a flat with my girlfriend. I’ve got Manchester and Liverpool nearby to explore and I’m not a million miles away from home, so relocating has been easy.
Making an impact
I now get involved in recruitment a little and I’ve noticed that the candidates who tend to do well are the ones who have taken time to visit our stores and speak to our teams there. I’d suggest visiting both older and newer stores to get a feel for how we work across the business.
When you join the business, I suggest that you take ownership of a project. Don’t wait for instructions – volunteer, ask questions and request to be shown things. In my placement year, following feedback that I would wait to be shown things, I put myself forward to run an employee training programme. I held skills days, in which we used games to analyse training needs at poorer performing stores; it’s still being used by the company and I think it helped me to win Lidl’s internal placement student of the year award. My initiative helped me to gain a role on the graduate programme.