How Lidl’s graduate programme puts staff on a fast-track to success
Lidl’s 18-month graduate programme keeps the number of participants small to give each of them the chance to think big
Deirdre Ryan, head of corporate social responsibility and Stephen Harpur, head of sales organisation for Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland
There’s no such thing as a typical day on the Lidl Graduate Management Development Programme, which is one of the big attractions for dynamic applicants seeking a varied and stimulating career at the international grocery retailer. Support and coaching will take you from high-potential to high-performance.
Lidl is looking for applicants with a 2.1 level 8 honours degree and full driver’s license who demonstrate flexibility, self-motivation, strong interpersonal skills and have work experience.
In return, Lidl entrusts its graduates with real projects and opportunities and trusts them to deliver real business results. The 18-month programme consists of a number of different modules designed to give participants a full understanding of the international supermarket business. All graduates will receive a bespoke training plan designed around their career path and current skills. They will each spend some time in the Lidl stores and warehouses to gain a thorough understanding of the key business areas before entering their chosen department. Whilst on the graduate programme, Lidl guarantees one-to-one coaching from a certified coach in the business, master-classes with renowned experts, competency assessment days, a structured mentorship programme and a vast array of training opportunities from its in-house training catalogue.
Lidl graduates receive a salary of €36,400, a competitive benefits package, as well as comprehensive training and excellent opportunities for career progression. We met Stephen Harpur (head of Sales Organisation) to hear more about his experiences on the Lidl Graduate Programme and how it further developed his career to where he is today.
Stephen Harpur: head of sales organisation for Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland
“In Lidl, it’s not how old you are but how you shoulder responsibility that determines your progress”
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m 25, from just outside Wexford Town, went to school in St Peter’s College and did my Leaving Cert in 2010. I studied accounting and finance at DCU and graduated in 2013.
Did you do a post grad?
No I went straight into work. Most of my friends from college went into one of the big four accountancy firms to train for their professional exams but I didn’t want every step of the next few years predetermined for me. I wanted to get a more rounded experience and a lot more diversity.
So what did you do?
I spoke to a regional manager from Lidl at a careers fair at DCU and loved the sound of the graduate programme. I could see I’d get both operational training and practical business experience.
How did it go?
It’s an 18-month programme. I spent my first six months in operational training which gave me a really good understanding of the entire business. At a big four firm you could be one of 300 on its graduate programme. At Lidl there were seven graduates in my intake and they really invested in each of us. We also got paid a competitive salary of €36,400 from the beginning.
Was it very glamorous?
I started out on a till. It’s the only way to learn about the business from the ground up and if someone doesn’t want to work in a store, they shouldn’t want to work for Lidl because stores are our core business. From there I did three months in a warehouse to get an understanding of our regional distribution centre and after that I went into head office to work in management accounting. Within a couple of months I was responsible for the reporting function within Lidl Ireland.
That’s very young for such responsibility, is that unusual?
I was 22 at the time. In Lidl it’s not how old you are but how you shoulder responsibility that determines your progress. There are great opportunities and the training is so comprehensive on the graduate programme that when I decided to change from accounts I was able to become an area manager after a relatively short time in training. First, I worked in Mayo, then in north Dublin. There are as many opportunities in Lidl as people want to chase. By the end of 2017 I was responsible for just under 100 staff and the experience allowed me develop my leadership and management skills.
What is your role now?
I’m currently head of sales organisation for Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland. My department is responsible for every aspect of the day-to-day running of some 200 Lidl stores, the systems and processes, from how we manage products coming into the store, through to a customer purchasing them at the till and everything in between.
Are the skills you are learning transferable?
At Lidl it’s all about driving efficiencies to get the best possible value for shoppers. We operate on a very lean business model, whether it’s reducing costs through stock loss to investing in new technology for the stores, ensuring we can offer the most competitive prices. When there was a need to have German, I was given nine weeks of one-to-one language tuition in Germany.
With such a skill set, backed up by practical experience, you’d be a valuable asset to any business. Why stay at Lidl?
I like the culture. It rewards effort. I love the ability to effect change. The work is very full-on but I enjoy it. I don’t think I could have gained so much experience, and got so much responsibility, at 25, anywhere else.
We also spoke to Deirdre Ryan (head of CSR) who told us why she made the move to Lidl Ireland and discussed the various initiatives the CSR team are currently involved in.
Deirdre Ryan: head of corporate social responsibility
“As a former athlete I’m competitive by nature, I like to get things done and see positive impact’
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from Dublin. I studied Commerce and Italian at UCD and did a Masters in International Business at the Smurfit Business School.
What happened next?
I spent many years competing as an international high jumper, working and training in Germany. I retired from sport soon after competing at the London Olympics and returned to Ireland to participate in the Bord Bia Origin Green Ambassador programme, studying for a Masters in Sustainability and working with a diverse group of food companies around the world. Thereafter, I worked in communications for Ornua, who own the Kerrygold brand, here in Dublin.
What prompted the move to Lidl?
The opportunity came up to establish a corporate and social responsibility (CSR) department for Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland. My role is to lead the development and implementation of Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland’s sustainability strategy. Lidl had ambitious plans to lead the way in the corporate sector here in Ireland so I jumped at the chance. Lidl’s commitment to sustainability has been recognised as Green Retailer of the year 2018 and recently won an award for Outstanding Achievement in Corporate Social Responsibility as well as Excellence in Community at the Chambers Ireland CSR Awards 2018.
This entails all the environmental and social programmes that Lidl is involved in. We have a number of pillars to support sustainability, including such things as responsible sourcing, the environment, health and wellness initiatives for employees and the work we do in the community. Given the wide scope of the programme, numerous departments and many of our graduates are involved in managing CSR projects across the business. There is opportunity for everyone to get involved and make a positive difference.
What kind of initiatives are you working on?
We have recently partnered with Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health. We surveyed staff to find out what they wanted to support and found a desire to raise awareness of this issue. We already knew from our partnership with Ladies Gaelic Football of the important positive impact sport can play on mental health so it was a perfect fit. We plan to raise €1m for Jigsaw over the next three years, supported by initiatives like Lidl’s Got Talent, that the Graduates organised. In Northern Ireland we partner with the NSPCC, raising funds to help keep children safe from abuse. Many of our graduates use their volunteer day to work with our charity partners or local community initiatives.
Nine months ago we introduced autism awareness evenings in every Lidl store between 6pm and 8pm. We work with Food Cloud too, to ensure our surplus food is redistributed, not wasted. We are also working closely with suppliers to reduce our plastic footprint. The projects are far-reaching from our central services team rolling out Lidl’s Renewable Energy Programme to the purchasing team working on year two of the Kickstart supplier development programme that brings small artisanal producers to Lidl shelves nationwide.
With a CV like yours you could work anywhere. Why Lidl?
As always, I did a lot of research. Speaking to people who worked there, I felt there would be a good fit for someone who wants to progress quickly. I had great respect for the manner in which Lidl changed the landscape of retail here in Ireland and connected with the brand. As soon as I spoke to the team at interview stage I could see how progressive they are, how open and willing they are to take on new ideas. We have a great senior team and an ambitious board of directors all based here in Ireland, making decisions for Lidl Ireland and Northern Ireland.
As an athlete I’m competitive by nature, I like to get things done. Whether you are a graduate, head of department or a director, we always work as a team. Everyone is given responsibility and the opportunity to work on a number of business projects. Lidl offers a dynamic and fast-paced environment where the scope for change is huge. I love it.
The deadline for applications for the Lidl graduate programme is October 31st. Applications can be made via the graduate programme section at jobs.lidl.ie