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First class graduates retailer's deaf training programme

The Shoprite Group yesterday, 19 May 2009, announced the first graduation class of 38 deaf learners who have completed a four month Sales Skills Programme and who are now employed in Checkers stores in Gauteng.
Deaf staff member Vincent Masilo assisting shopper Gidion Tsindi at Checkers Hyper at Centurion.
The group is the first retailer in South Africa which has put this qualification in place. Further skills programmes for deaf learners in conjunction with eDeaf, a deaf-owned company established to provide holistic service to the employer and the deaf employee, and the Wholesale and Retail Sector Education and Training Authority (W&RSETA) will follow.

In this pilot project the Shoprite Group undertook the training of the learners in conjunction with eDeaf and guaranteed simultaneous job placements and career path development in a segment ideally suited to the skills of a Deaf person.

In announcing the graduation of these learners Callie Burger, Human Resources Director of the Shoprite Group, said that one of the biggest challenges facing disabled learners when entering the workplace is fighting prejudice. Shoprite took the decision to help break down these barriers, which impact on disabled individuals seeking gainful employment.

Employment breakthrough

"Our learning programmes count under the most advanced in the retail industry. This has paid dividends across all brands and we are pleased to announce entry into this sector where it is estimated that there are about 500,000 deaf people living in South Africa, of which 70% are unemployed.

"For almost all the learners this Skills Programme was their first entry into the workplace. It was met with huge enthusiasm and the group is proud and excited to have these deaf learners in its employ.

"The successful completion of a further three Skills Programmes will see these learners achieving the full qualification - a National Certificate in Wholesale and Retail Operations at National Qualification Framework (NQF) Level 2."

Jesse Kotze, Director of eDeaf, added: "This is a massive breakthrough for the Deaf Community, and a giant step for the Wholesale and Retail SETA. We foresee that this pilot project in the Gauteng region will eventually be executed nationally in all the regions of our country. We are elated that through this project Deaf workers can compete on equal basis with the Hearing work force!"

Recruitment process

Vincent assists shopper Melinda van Tonder.
The learners were recruited by eDeaf from areas around Johannesburg and Pretoria. They were subjected to the NQF Level 2 Placement Assessment Tool, and were all interviewed with the assistance of Sign Language Interpreters. The five tutors were thoroughly trained by the Shoprite Checkers Training Division and learning materials were adapted appropriately.

Forty learners started the programme in November 2008 with theoretical training and were placed in 11 stores for practical training. 38 of them completed the course and were found competent on four unit standards.

Prior to the above mentioned training all the relevant Checkers managers went through a sensitisation process with the eDeaf team on how to communicate effectively with a deaf person. This contributed greatly to the success of the project.

In the workplace

In the first programme, the learners worked in the product reception area where they did physical receiving of products and capturing of invoices. In mid-December 2008 they moved to the various shops' sales floors, where they worked in Groceries, Non Foods and the Perishables departments. Their main duties were to practically do merchandising, Price Indicator labels, housekeeping, interaction with customers and maintaining displays.

The learners can be easily recognised in the group's stores by customers as they have a specially designed uniform indicating: "I am Deaf. How can I help you?"

They all have a small notebook and pen at hand which they hand over to customers to improve communication. This seems to elicit very positive reaction from customers and peers.