SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (FNS) -- Price Chopper Supermarkets is collaborating with a local college to enhance the training of its employees.
The 106-store chain and Hudson Valley Community College have begun to develop a Supermarket Management and Operations Certificate program exclusively for Price Chopper employees.
"We felt that it was very important for our manager trainees and/or those growing within our system to learn through a hands-on technical approach as well as an educational format approach that's more traditional," said Mona Golub, a spokeswoman for Price Chopper. "Certainly the opportunity to marry a general business administration degree with a concentration that relates to a potential career opportunity that they may already be hip-deep in is a valuable, valuable opportunity."
The curriculum includes four supermarket classes, which are being specially created by the educators at HVCC and senior-level management at Price Chopper. They are: Introduction to the Supermarket Industry, Supermarket Management, Center Store Operations and Perishables. The 32-credit program also includes five pre-existing business courses and one computer class.
"We assessed our workers, and we felt that in many cases, with technology increasing as it has in our stores, we need to give them the tools to learn the job and to move up throughout the company," said Doug Olsen, manager of training and development at Price Chopper. "Most of our store managers are developed right here in the company. If we could educate people in the communication skills and in the technical aspects of the job, we felt we would be much further ahead."
The program is open to all of Price Chopper's nearly 23,000 employees. Employees from all six states in which Price Chopper operates can take the coursework through the Internet or via satellite, said Golub.
"Once they complete the Supermarket Management and Operations Certificate, students will be halfway to completing an associate's degree in business administration," explained Janine Kava, communications director at HVCC. "Even in the general business courses, Price Chopper associates will focus on the supermarket industry. The Price Chopper employees will have homework that is tailored to their experience."
Rich Bennett, director of continuing education and summer sessions at HVCC, said the four Price Chopper-specific courses are still in the development stages.
"Professionals from Price Chopper, in concert with our faculty from the business department, will be working on developing these courses so they meet the standards of the State Education Department," Bennett said.
He said the school hopes to have at least one of the courses ready for the fall 2005 semester, and will possibly have all four courses in place by that time. Meanwhile, students can begin the certificate program by attending the general business classes.
The program could eventually expand to include six to eight Price Chopper-specific courses, Olsen said. The computer course also will relate directly to Price Chopper by focusing on the technologies and systems that are in use by the chain.
Olsen said the company was planning to help its employees pay for the coursework.
"We haven't completed the process yet, but for the first 15 to 30 people who get into the program, at a minimum if you've worked for the company for two years and if you are full time, then you can get tuition reimbursement of 75%," Olsen said.
Golub said the tuition will be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and different employees could be sponsored at different levels.
"We are certainly looking to support the education of candidates who wish to grow within this company," she said. "We encourage the associates that work for our company to further their education. In order to become a store manager within this company you must have an associate's degree.
"This program specifically sponsors scholarships for students who are ready to take the plunge and further their education who don't already have an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree."
Golub declined to reveal how much Price Chopper will invest in this program.
Tuition at HVCC is $108 per credit for New York residents and $324 for non-residents. However, Price Chopper-specific courses will be offered to all students at the in-state tuition rate, regardless of residence. Other classes in the certificate program will be billed at the out-of-state tuition rate.
Price Chopper expects the first class to begin in January 2005, and Olsen said by September it expects to have 50 or 60 students enrolled.
"By 2007, we hope to have a stable program at about 250 people," he said.
The training program can be used by employees seeking to advance in a variety of different areas, not just store management, Golub said.
"They're not being trained to be store managers," she explained. "It's a business administration degree with a supermarket emphasis."
Golub said HVCC's advanced technology is one reason the company chose to partner with the college.
"Primarily, the online capability, so that we could take the program chainwide, was a major advantage," she said. "In addition to that, they are very progressive in terms of developing continuing education programs, and have proved that in other collaborative work that we've done."
Price Chopper also offers tuition assistance to its part-time workers through a separate program. Last year, the company provided nearly $1.2 million to 1,600 employees through that program.
"We have 5,000 associates under the age of 18," Golub added. "These kids might enjoy their 15-hour-a-week job or weekend job if they recognize that they might have an opportunity with an associate scholarship to provide a seed of a career opportunity."
Price Chopper also works with Schenectady County Community College on a program for culinary arts, which the company has been involved with for the past seven years.