Studied Business Management at Newcastle University, with a 48-week rotational industry placement with Lidl as part of the course.
Why did you choose Lidl?
The fast-paced environment, and the fact that the company's growing and moving in the right direction. I wanted to join a company that's expanding with all the opportunities for development and career progression that comes with that success - Lidl are just so on the up.
How was your induction to Lidl?
The first few days included a welcome event, where you're introduced to the company and get an understanding of its scale. You get to meet all the other grads, get an overview of the business and how we'll fit into it, as well as Lidl’s expectations for us. In the region, you’ll meet some of the people you'll working be with, main points of contact and then head off into your first module. My first was in Logistics, starting with a tour of the warehouse and a chance to meet the teams, then going over the training plan to see what it's going to look like for the next three months.
What sort of work have you been doing since being at Lidl?
At the beginning of the programme, I worked across the three departments in the warehouse, and then spent time specialising in Selection, which is the biggest of the three with 140 – 160 staff at any one time in that department. It's a great opportunity to get your management skills up to speed because straight away you're exposed to this huge team, with its own fluctuations requiring recruitment, selection and induction of new team members. It was a great place to develop people management across lots of different situations.
In Sales, I have worked alongside the Store Manager to understand not just the day-to-day running of the store, but what we're all working towards - the key KPIs - productivity, availability, write-offs, inventory, keeping a handle on those with live updates so we know where we are. I've had meetings with the area manager and been involved in recruitment as well, towards the end of my time I was also able to help out with a new store opening – it’s so varied.
Where are you now in your programme?
Now I’m 4 weeks into Supply Chain. It is split into three areas - the Assortment team who are responsible for bringing the stock into the regions, the promotions team who manage seasonal promotions like the World Cup or Christmas, and then finally there's the freshness team, who control the store's orders for all the fresh food areas. Store orders come in and we control stock based on what their sales figures are e.g. if they can sell more or less than what they've ordered, trying to work out if we should cut back or push out more stock. The aim is trying to improve write-offs across the region by making sure we're not over-ordering, whilst maximising turnover by making sure no-one runs out of stock.
Supply Chain's very analytical and it's less hands-on than warehouse or store work. It's the behind-the-scenes stuff, where you build an understanding of the data behind our success. It's been great to learn this stuff before I go back into Sales, as I have a much deeper understanding of why certain decisions are made, how our order lists are prepared and why sticking to them is so important for our big-picture success.
How do you find the teamwork at Lidl?
It seems like everyone's focussed on the same goal, all working towards the same thing, I've seen it so many times. On a recent placement there were some colleagues from the Property department, visiting a store for its first annual check. While I was there, one of the construction team was picking litter up in the car park, letting the manager know about an issue with the Bakery – he didn't have to do any of that, but because he cares about the overall goal. He's part of every team, not just the area he's specialising in. It was great to see the 'one team' mindset in action. It creates such a good vibe, it's nice to be a part of that, to feel part of something bigger.
How do you find the training aspect of the programme?
I started in Sales in January and spent six months in a store. It was really fast-paced. In Sales, there's the Training Academy, which gives you targeted courses and coaching sessions. It covers all the different management levels of the business. You go in and do a really specific course – say one on managing your bakery, which covers all the stuff you'll need, practical skills, merchandising, strategy – and then you go back into your store for the rest of the week to implement what you've learned. As a graduate you work through the whole process, up to Store Manager level, and at the end of the Sales module you've had almost the same training that a fully-fledged Store Manager would get.
Where do you see your next steps in terms of your career?
I’m hoping to specialise in Sales in Year 2. No matter which department you choose in Year 2, the information you learn in Year 1’s rotations will help you. It's all interlinked and knowing one area of the business help you succeed in other areas. I've found the senior teams really approachable and helpful with advice on how I might progress. That's given me a better idea of what's actually out there, what's realistic for me next.
What have you enjoyed the most so far at Lidl?
Last month, I ended up covering the Team Manager’s position in Logistics. I was a little bit out of my depth at first and it was a massive learning curve - running such a large department for a week or two and seeing everything that comes with it. It was scary, but by the end of it really enjoyable, and gave me the motivation to reach the level that I was operating at then. I loved the responsibility.
Lidl’s scheme has structure, but it's up to you how far you want to push it. If you're willing to take on more responsibility and ask questions, then the opportunities are there for you to really step up. I've loved the emphasis on personal development, the whole scheme's set up to help you grow.
Have there been any surprises working for Lidl?
The increase in expectations maybe caught me by surprise a little bit, I always know I was working towards being management-ready at the end of it, but still going into a new department every few months and getting involved, having to make a real impact on millions and millions of pounds worth of business, was an eye-opener. It's real big-league stuff. So that was a surprise, but a good one!
How is the variety at Lidl?
Lidl being owned by the Schwartz group and being a private company instead of a public company helps to make us so agile. Changes can be implemented so quickly, without having to go through shareholder meetings all the time. We can make decisions and act on them in a really agile way. A new process will come from Head Office and we can action it nationwide within a day or two. You need to be adaptable, but that's what keeps us ahead.
There's also the built-in variety of the scheme being rotational - you're always moving, building new relationships in a range of teams, getting exposed to so many different sides of the business. It's really good for someone with a passion for business or retail but who doesn't know exactly what they want to do yet – the Lidl grad scheme's like a try-before-you-buy, you get to work through so much in Year 1 that by Year 2, you're much readier to choose your best direction forward.
What have you learnt about yourself since working for Lidl?
I've begun to appreciate feedback a lot more. There are regular appraisals and reviews as you move through the scheme, and to begin with it can be hard to hear what feels like very honest criticism. I've got a lot better at seeing this as constructive, as it's aimed to be, it's about showing me how to improve my performance. Now I'm always seeking out that feedback, being proactive to find out how I can be doing things better – it's a new way of being but it's really helping me move forward.
I'm certainly a lot more confident than I was, I can comfortably give a presentation to any audience. I've got a much better understanding of people and how to lead them, operational knowledge is one thing, knowing how to build relationships with a new team is quite another.
What advice would you give to potential applicants?
If you're not sure what you want to do, come into a company that lets you experience multiple business functions within a year. A rotational scheme just brings so many benefits.