What it does: One of the ‘Big Two’ supermarket chains, accounting for about a third of the Australian grocery market
Staff stats: Over 100,000 staff spread across 2,200 store, site, warehouse and office locations
The good bits: Great starting salary, potential for fast progression, variety of work
The not so good bits: Long hours, some corporate bureaucracy
The Coles story
Generations of young Australians have worked their way through high school and uni stacking shelves or manning cash registers. Most have gone into other fields after finishing their studies. But if you’re looking for a challenging, well-paid career it’s worth considering Coles.
George James Coles opened the ‘Coles Variety Store’ in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood in 1914. In the following decades, Coles gobbled up several grocery shop chains. In 1962, all these supermarkets were branded ‘Coles New World’, which later became Coles Supermarkets, then just ‘Coles’. A decade ago, Wesfarmers, Australia’s largest company, Wesfarmers, purchased Coles for $22 billion.
Even with new entrants such as Costco and Aldi arriving down under, Coles and Woolworths continue to hoover up 80 per cent of the money Australians spend on groceries and endlessly vie with each other to be Number One. While most Australians see Coles as simply the place they get their groceries, it’s a vast, sophisticated and increasingly high-tech company with annual revenues of almost $30 billion.
Retail has long been an industry where people can and do rise from shelf-stacker to CEO. The advantage of joining one of Coles grad programs is that you get to skip the lower rungs of the career ladder. Grads can work on the frontline in a store/convenience retail site/ distribution centre or in a ‘back-office’ department. These range from Corporate Affairs to Digital to People & Culture to Finance to Legal to Marketing to Procurement to Property to Supply Chain. How far you progress up the org chart will largely come down to how driven and effective you are. At Coles, you can expect a buzzy, fast-paced, dynamic and collaborative culture.
Coles partners with a range of charities. It donates food to Foodbank and Secondbite, as well as partnering with Redkite, Bravery Trust, Red Dust, Guide Dogs Australia and Cancer Council. It seeks to source food responsibly, in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, cause undue suffering to animals, or encourage the exploitation of workers. It also aims to reduce waste and landfill and minimise energy consumption.
The recruitment process
Coles offers two grad programs – the ‘Store Support Graduate Program’ and ‘Operations Graduate Program’. The former goes for two years and offers 17 business streams to choose from. While it does involve spending some time working in a store, this program is well suited to those wanting an office based role. As the name suggests, the Operations program is for those wanting to work in a store or site, giving experience to move into a senior operational leadership role at the end of the two years. There are 3 streams to choose from; Supermarket Operations, Coles Express Operations and Distribution Centre Operations.
You start the application process by submitting an online application via the careers section of the Coles website. If you make it to the next round, you’ll spend a day at a Coles Assessment Centre. If you do well there, you’re offered a position, often within 24 hours!
Coles pays “very competitive” salaries to those in its grad programs and it’s not unrealistic to expect to be pulling down six-figures within a few years of finishing the program. Plus, you get discounts on everything from groceries to petrol to gym memberships to film tickets. You also get to do some interstate travel, going to Melbourne for your induction and travelling to sites such as the Sydney distribution centre.
Retail is an industry where there is a strong promote-from-within culture. Once you’ve finished the grad program, there is the opportunity to progress quickly, especially if you impress your line and department manager.
The vibe of the place
You can expect to work with many different people in many different areas. You’ll be working alongside passionate managers who are keen to see you succeed and readily available to offer guidance. The company has long had a diverse workforce and is keen to funnel more women and indigenous Australians into leadership roles. There are generous parental leave schemes.
Overall satisfaction rating among grad employees: 4.3 stars