Cheshire was today (29 April) named as one of the first areas in the country to take part in a national scheme to revive the recession-hit retail sector.

Cheshire Oaks Retail Academy (CORA), at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, was announced as a founder member of the National Skills Academy for Retail; a Government backed network of training centres designed to increase productivity in the sector.


Staff from the centre were formally welcomed to the academy at a glitzy launch today at Centre Point, London, attended by Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis and CEOs from top retailers including Sainsbury’s and John Lewis.


The National Skills Academy for Retail has been hailed as a key way to help retailers to develop their staff’s potential, improve their performance and prepare for the economic upturn. This is especially important in Cheshire because the retail sector in the North West employs 324,798 people – or 14% of the total retail workforce in England.


CORA was founded in 2003 by West Cheshire College, developers McArthur Glen, JobCentre Plus, Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet and Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council and has already trained and up-skilled more than 1,300 people of all ages and backgrounds in retail, and helped 140 Cheshire Oaks retailers to recruit skilled employees.


As part of the national network, its services will be expanded to include the Diploma in Retail Business, pre-employment training, Apprenticeships, retail customer service programmes and retail work experience opportunities.


General Manager Colin Wilding said: “Under the National Skills Academy for Retail, we have the potential to offer Cheshire retailers incalculable benefits in the form of staff development and retention.”


Retailer and star of BBC1’s Dragon’s Den Theo Paphitis said: “Training is vital to the success of retail, and the Cheshire Oaks skills shop will help all employees and employers find the right training solution. Whether it is an Apprenticeship, retail customer service programme or work experience opportunity, it will be an important part of local life, and provide a timely boost for the retail sector.”


Jane Rexworthy, Head of the National Skills Academy for Retail, said:  “We are all excited to launch the National Skills Academy for Retail and welcome the Cheshire Oaks Retail Academy to the network. Together, we will now begin our mission to drive up the skills levels of everyone within the diverse and large retail sector.


“It will act as a resource for everyone, from local people hoping to begin their career or get back in to work, to retailers looking for the best way to train their existing workforce.”


The number of skills shops in the National Skills Academy for Retail is set to rise to 60 by 2010 and the project is backed by big-name industry names including the John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer and the British Council of Shopping Centres.


To find out more about Cheshire Oaks Retail Academy, go to the National Skills Academy for Retail website at www.nsaforretail.com