Earlier this week, LVMH announced it planned to recruit 25,000 people under the age of 30 by the end of next year.
The hiring binge by the world’s biggest seller of luxury goods signals more than the latest escalation in the global war for talent. As part of the announcement, the company said it is addressing barriers that have historically kept many from joining its training programmes.
“Young people around the world, regardless of their background or training,” according to a company statement, can now qualify for thousands of spots in “Inside LVMH,” a programme that offers training on trades like craftsmanship and coaching from LVMH employees, HR staff and managers.
Whether the company keeps its promise remains to be seen: LVMH did not outline in detail how it would bring in “young people around the world, regardless of their background or training,” and the announcement specified only 5,000 internships and apprenticeship positions globally, plus 2,500 permanent employment contracts in France — well short of 25,000 positions.
But this week’s announcement brings together months of pandemic-borne introspection for the company and reflects broader shifts in how the fashion industry is approaching the problem of finding and retaining new talent. In the wake of last year’s social justice protests, more companies are feeling the pressure to ramp up their efforts to diversify their workforce.
At the same time, many fashion companies are facing a broader labour shortage as their workforce ages and fewer young people are drawn to low-paying, entry-level roles in the industry. European luxury companies like LVMH also need to find a new generation of specialised workers to manufacture their clothes, leather goods and jewellery.
“This is part of our regional strategy to amplify the support to the next generation... what we want to do is have genuine relationships with students and early career professionals and to make sure that we give access to opportunities,” said Karin Raguin, vice president of talent management and corporate responsibility at LVMH North America. “What we want to do at the end of the day is to recruit now, but also to recruit for the long run.”
Companies looking to diversify their workforces are best served by taking steps to “ensure a talent pipeline,” said Caroline Pill, London-based partner at executive placement firm Kirk Palmer Associates.
High-end beauty and fashion purveyors in particular have a history of hiring candidates from well-to-do backgrounds and often with degrees from top-tier universities. This has meant that a certain type of candidate — often white and with family money — has had the greatest opportunity to secure the internships and entry positions that allow them to eventually climb the management ranks.
“Creating a more diverse environment…. it’s not enough to work at the mid- or senior management level,” Pill said. “It needs to start at... entry-level.”
Companies that recruit staffers that are younger and from underrepresented groups are also better able to tap into a treasure trove of profit-generating data about how these groups “think and what they want,” she said.
In order to build a talent pipeline, companies must actually have opportunities for training and advancement that they can offer even their lowest-ranking employees.
Long gone are the days when fashion and beauty firms could use their glamorous facade to lure in bright-eyed interns and junior employees to fetch coffee for executives in exchange for a meagre paycheck and the vague promise of making industry connections. Today’s entry-level candidates aren’t just hoping to have a job; they’re looking for tangible skills that will set them up for long-term success.
Positioning interns and entry-level workers as part of a talent pipeline helps create the impression that these roles are likely to become careers. That can draw a higher calibre of applicants.
“By creating these programs, and showing [younger talent] the craft of it… you’re giving them access to something they can learn while also training them in your own very specific process,” said Lisa Butkus, partner and head of the retail and luxury goods practise at executive search firm Hanold Associates. “It becomes an investment in them [as much as in] the succession plan for your own company.”
External programmes and partnerships can provide the training and skills that might not be readily available at, for instance, a job as a sales associate in a store. In July, Walmart promised to pay for college tuition and books for store associates, and in August, Target said it would offer 340,000 employees learning opportunities in 250 “business-aligned programmes.”
These sort of initiatives meet Gen-Z and Millennials’ demands to “see and feel that a company is investing in them,” said Butkus.
“Down the road, this is saving companies from having to constantly look externally for talent or having to recruit and react in a market like this,” said Butkus. “This is how you end up with a person that started out moving shopping carts in high school and is on the executive team 30 years later — it builds loyalty.”
Earlier this year, LVMH’s North America arm launched LVMH Happiness, bi-monthly developmental programmes focused on wellbeing, including how to manage emotional fatigue, led by LVMH leaders. These sessions are open to all employees, Raguin said.
Fashion firms that promise career development need to quickly prove they plan to follow through. From day one, companies should provide participants with an outline of what they’re expected to accomplish and when. Companies should also make clear the specific job titles young professionals will qualify for and be transparent about the number of available positions.
Managing expectations is key.
“[It’s not] an approach of ‘we’re going to hire all these young people or we’re going to bring them into these programmes and then just hope to develop them,’” said Butkus.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.