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“Now we get to play boss”

Trainees at PENNY

8 October 2014 ·

Be the boss in store a day: For 33 PENNY trainees from the Großbeeren region, this wish came true. In July, they joined forces and took the helm of the PENNY Markt in Berlin-Wedding − a project with a view to the future. 

“Here, we run the whole show for you”: the PENNY customers could not avoid this large announcement posted in the entrance to their local supermarket in July. The reason behind the poster was that the supermarket was being managed entirely by trainees from 1 to 31 July – from supermarket management to cashiers. This was a project organised by the PENNY human resources department in Großbeeren that was designed with the future in mind. 
Andreas Lenk, human resources developer for training in the Großbeeren region is clearly proud. A mere idea has now become part and parcel of training in the region. At a national level, there will soon be a supermarket in every region that is run by trainees; this has been fixed in the new training concept 2.0. 
In 2013, a supermarket in Berlin was, for the first time, to be run exclusively by trainees for a limited period. At that time, the project was still on a small scale, with a small group in an equally small supermarket in Prenzlauer Berg – only trainees from the capital were recruited for this purpose. The pilot phase went well. So well, in fact, that not only was the sales department willing to make a supermarket available again the following year for four weeks, but all trainees from the Großbeeren region could now take part together. 
All about the learning experience 
In summer 2014, they took their positions at the PENNY Markt in Berlin-Wedding. A total of 33 trainees between 17 to 28 years old arrived from across the Großbeeren region and were given accommodation in Berlin. Each one had very different requirements and various levels of expertise. It is precisely this heterogeneity that makes the project so exciting. 
Andreas Lenk considered early on which trainees were eligible for supermarket leadership and representation – the only positions that would not be swapped over the project period of four weeks. These aside, everyone does everything – cashier work, ordering goods, packing shelves. After all, this is all about learning. A conscious decision was made to have at least five trainees – more than enough – at each operational layer, meaning everyone can chip in. “We are removing the luxury here of having tasks and processes carried out as they should be. Even if this takes more time. We value accuracy and precise processes,” Lenk explains the principle. 
“It’s good to face new challenges” 
As supermarket management, Josefine Voth – a participant of the PENNY trainee programme – keeps abreast of the overall situation. “I’m a sort of apprentice mummy,” laughs the Rostock resident. The lively trainee initially experienced a real “culture shock” when she came to Berlin. “In my supermarket in Rostock, everyone knows everyone else; I can find my way around with a blindfold on. Here, of course, things are completely different. I work closely with supermarket data to be able to plan ahead. “It’s also very rewarding to break your routine every now and again and be faced with new challenges,” explains Voth. This project means she can not only share her experiences with the younger trainees, but also learn a lot for herself that she can take away with her. 
Everyday challenges in the supermarket include various jobs where the trainees can put what they have learned to the test. “penny to go” brand tasting and wine tasting, non-food special marketing campaigns, a health day sponsored by DAK, a German health insurance firm − these involve supervising stands, creating themed worlds and positioning goods to appeal to customers. “This is primarily about actively engaging with customers. The aim is for our trainees to overcome any shyness when it comes to customers,” explains Andreas Lenk. 
“The supermarket should continue to be financially successful” 
Besides Andreas Lenk, who is at the supermarket almost every day, sales staff are of course also ready to offer trainees any advice and assistance: Daniel Perpeet (sales manager), Werner Ewering (sales manager) and Manuela Klemme (district manager) are pleased with the project aimed at up-and-coming employees, but also pay attention to the ongoing figures. 
Andreas Lenk emphasises: “Our regional manager Steffen Graupner supports us, but of course the supermarket must continue to be financially successful during the trainee phase. The joint monthly inventory with the deputy district manager Sabine Wilkens marks the end of the practical project phase. Individual meetings with each trainee then follow, in which I give feedback on their achievements. We also all look together one more time at the supermarket figures for the period overseen by the trainees and evaluate them carefully to sharpen their sense of responsibility.”  
Finally, the supermarket is handed back over to the original personnel, who were either in another supermarket or on holiday during the trainee period. The project may have ended for the time being, but the human resource department barely have time to breathe – their colleagues have something big up their sleeves: “My dream is to have a year-round supermarket where only trainees work,” says Andreas Lenk. Maybe one day this will come true!