By Hilary Hagerman
It’s been 10 years since the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management was created, and Donna Smith has been there through it all.
Smith, a longtime Ryerson professor and former Associate Dean for the Faculty of Communication & Design, was vital to the School of Retail Management’s creation, and was appointed as the school’s first director in 1999. Since then, Smith has watched the prestigious program, one of only two of its kind in Canada, grow to over 400 students.
It all started in the late 1990s. Ryerson’s continuing education was doing consulting work, corporate education and training with Eaton’s department stores when it became apparent there was “an increasing demand and need within the industry for more training and education in the retail sector of corporations,” said Smith. Out of that demand, Ryerson created a continuing education certificate program in retail and service management.
Soon after, Ryerson recognized there was even more demand for trained professionals in the retail management sector.
“The retailers that we were speaking to and the research that was going on said that there was almost a crisis happening in the retail industry in Canada in that there was a shortage training,” said Smith.
“Compared to the U.S., there were hardly any managers that had undergraduate degrees, let alone undergraduate degrees in retailing. The sector wasn’t attracting sufficient people.”
Smith says since Ryerson already had a certificate program for retail management at that point, they were quick to pick up on the need for a full undergraduate program.
“We were close to the pulse of what was already happening in the industry, and we picked up on the need early on,” she said.
“I love the retail management program,” said Amy Lai, 23, a third-year student. “We have many professors who are clearly industry professionals and can give many personal insights. The program helps students discover many career opportunities available in the retail industry.”
Lai also says that in addition to the academic side of the school, the program provides students with a chance to mingle with industry insiders through a number of internship opportunities and events.
Last semester, a one-on-one “speednetworking” event was held with major companies like Loblaws, The Bay and Holt Renfrew where students had the chance to talk to a company’s representatives or management in a one-onone environment.
The school’s strong internship program also contributes to the prestige of the retail management degree.
With funding from three major partners, the school has been able to hire Chantal Symes as internship and career developement coordinator.
Smith says the internship program is good because it gives the students a chance to try different career paths once they’re in the program. “I’ve always strongly believed that we have to expose the students to as many types of experiences as possible, and then let them make the choices that are best for them,” she said.
In the future, Smith hopes to have a graduate program in retail management and to keep the program growing.
“We will definitely be expanding our student intake and getting them multiple jobs in retail as alumni,” she said. “And we’ll be able to provide more opportunities for students coming into the program.”
“I’m really proud of how the program has grown over the last 10 years, and I think that it’s proof that there really was such a high need for a program like this.”