TOP British retailers have launched a major initiative to tackle the failure to attract high-fliers from further and higher education into the industry.
Industry leaders believe that retailing has serious trouble with its image and urgently needs to promote itself more effectively.
The concerns - highlighted by a survey of the chairmen and chief executives of 150 top retailers last year - have led to the launch of the British Institute of Retailing. The initiative was supported by the Arcadia Group, BAA, Boots, Kingfisher, Laura Ashley, Littlewoods, Marks amp; Spencer and Tesco.
Already, 30 of the UK's leading retail companies have promised to join the BIR, which wants to advance and promote the professional standing of retailing and to recognise the achievements of employees.
Retailing is the largest private sector employer in the UK employing 10.5 per cent of the working population. The industry has an annual turnover of pound;160 billion and contributes 24 per cent to the gross national product. Sixteen of the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index are retail companies or have retail interests.
Martin Hall, BIR's executive director, said: "It is quite perverse that an industry of the size of British retailing has no established body with the responsibility for raising the quality of its management skills.
"Even if we were concerned only with retailing in the British Isles, the industry has an urgent need to recruit and develop the best talents. But with UK retailing now poised on the brink of a major global expansion programme, it needs become even more acute.
"The industry's links with further and higher education are a key part of this process. Historically, retailers have developed one-to-one relationships with universities and colleges. For the industry to sustain its remarkable growth rate and economic success of the past 40 years, it must start to think and act in a collective fashion."
One of the institute's first tasks will be a comprehensive audit of existing retailing courses in further education colleges and universities. Heads of department, principals and vice chancellors will be asked for detailed qualitative and quantitative information about this training.
Mr Hall adds: "The BIR is now a key forum for universities and colleges seeking closer ties with the industry. BIR will exist to provide specialist support and funding into these sectors."
This summer an audit of retailers will be undertaken to find what the industry thinks about the quality of current education and training opportunities and how they might be improved. It is hoped that the data gleaned from the combined research will lead to the development of a coherent strategy for meeting the industry's future training and managerial needs.