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2022 08 news iga photo1The Senior School at Ballarat Specialist School is very excited to have joined a student work experience affiliation with Country Grocers IGA, in particular their Country Grocers store in Skipton. This wonderful opportunity came about earlier in the year when Loretta Robinson, our VET, Careers and Work Experience Coordinator approached Ben Decis, who is a past Specialist School teacher.

Ben and his family own and operate Country Grocers IGA and have 5 stores in the region: Skipton, Trentham, Avoca, Smythesdale, and Ballan. For the last 23 year’s Ben’s family have been one of the many independent family-owned businesses that operate IGA stores in small town markets that sit at the heart of local communities across Australia. IGA originally own as “Independent Grocers Alliance” first came to Australia in 1988, 62 years after IGA was first founded by a group of independent retailers in New York in 1926. Since 1988, Australia has over 1400 IGA (now Independent Grocers of Australia) stores.

During the initial early conversations with Ben to discuss the possibility of his supermarkets taking on work experience students, Ben had a brilliant idea of offering us a 10-week work experience program. Ben commented: “When Loretta and Katie first approached me to take on work experience kids from BSS I said no, because they were only going to be sending us two. I knew we could do a lot better than that!”

Essentially Ben offered to turn his Skipton supermarket into an operating training hub for 10 of our year 11 and 12 students. Ben and his chosen staff, along with two supporting staff from BSS, join the students each Wednesday this term to support them learning valuable retail skills that may assist them in gaining employment in the future.

2022 08 news iga photo2From the moment students enter the store each Wednesday they are treated as though they are employees, dressed in appropriate IGA uniform and name tags. The students have already learnt beneficial information on how a supermarket operates from day to day, including many of the behind the scenes’ aspects.

The students are all given tasks to complete that include: basic retail principles like rotating stock or ‘FIFO’ (first in, first out), the importance of stock placement and presentation on shelves, building customer displays, training on the register and serving customers, helping when new stock arrives, store walks with Ben looking at what needs to be done to make retail stores operate, and allocated time to complete the IGA induction modules.

Even though we are still in the early stages of the program the students have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and were drawn into learning from the initial induction day during week 1 when Loretta mentioned “Students were engaged from the minute Ben opened his mouth and spoke”.

Discussions with the students about the program so far have been brilliant, and the general consensus is how enthusiastic they are to be part of this program. Many students commented that they “love working with Ben and his staff” Courtney, Ashlee, Kate, Jess and Bec. They talked about Ben being a friendly and humorous “boss” and enjoyed the way he was teaching them, and “keeping them on topic” about all the supermarket daily practices. It was also lovely to see students greeting customers in a friendly and cheerful manner, and they were delighted by many of the customers interest in what they are doing and wishing them well.

We feel this is a very rare and great opportunity for students, and we are exceedingly grateful to Ben, his family and staff for providing our students with this essential learning job skills program.

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