When Woolworths team member Lamin Colley left his tiny village in Gambia, he was setting foot on a path that would lead across the globe serving fresh, healthy food to Australians and leading a team of nearly 200 people.
Born and raised in a small community where resources were scarce, Colley's childhood was not easy - education was considered a luxury and opportunities were limited.
In 1998, at the age of 19, Colley moved to Australia. Armed with ambition and a thirst for knowledge, he enrolled in TAFE in Granville to pursue his certificate IV and diploma. Later, he continued his studies at Western Sydney University, where he delved into business studies with a focus on marketing.
Growing up in Gambia, Colley's exposure to supermarkets had been limited, but the experience of seeing a vast array of food in one place left a lasting impression on him.
“There was all this food you could buy in one place and take it home,” says Colley.
“Where I grew up, we did have markets, but it's different to having all these foods that you can buy because when I was growing up we grew our own stuff, and the little things that you don't have, then you can go to the markets and buy them. We didn’t have the fridge systems that you can keep things in for longer.”
Colley told his father that he needed to start working. There was a family connection working at Woolworths, which led to Colley's first job at a Woolworths store in North Strathfield in Sydney’s southwest.
As he continued to pursue his studies at TAFE, Woolworths accommodated his schedule and offered him the role of afternoon supervisor in the deli and seafood department - the next step in his career journey.
As Colley gained experience and completed his studies, he climbed the ranks within Woolworths, transitioning from one department to another in nine different stores. With each promotion, he took on new challenges and responsibilities, moving from an assistant department manager to eventually becoming a grocery manager.
"I love working with people," he says. "I love meeting people from different cultures. I guess for me, I did not find it hard. I find it easy to mix with people."
Along the way, he encountered mentors and leaders who believed in his potential and encouraged him to reach new heights. His managers saw the spark in Colley and motivated him to aim higher, nurturing his ambition and leadership skills.
“They had an impact on my career because these are the people that saw something about me; how keen I was, how passionate I was. At one point they told me I needed to slow down because they could see how passionate I was.”
In 2005, after years of balancing work and study, Colley completed his university education. He had the opportunity to explore different career paths, including a stint at Woolworths' head office, but his heart was set on the shop floor. "I didn't see myself sitting down on a computer and then looking at the screen," he says, "I was really excited to be on the shop floor."
For Colley, now a father of four, being a store manager at Woolworths Chester Hill means more than just managing a business—it means being a mentor, a guide, and a source of support for his team.
He understands the challenges newcomers face, particularly staff from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and he made it his mission to make them feel welcomed and valued.
Asked about his advice for new migrants considering a job at Woolworths, Colley says: "Come along. You will enjoy it, you will have fun, it's a good place to work.
“We have great managers, we have good team leaders. We understand, especially me, I understand how it feels."
When HSC exams approach, Colley ensures that his young team members have the flexibility and support they need.
Woolworths's focus on empowering its team members, irrespective of their backgrounds, has resulted in a thriving and diverse workforce that helps drive the organisation’s success as one of the nation’s largest employers.
Camille Stewart, recruitment lead for Woolworths Group, says Colley’s journey through the ranks of the company shows the importance of giving young team members every chance to broaden their skills.
“Woolworths Group is one of the largest employers in Australia, with over 64,000 team members under 25 across Australia,” she says.
“Increasingly, there is no one typical pathway for a team member and that is one of the most compelling aspects of being part of our business - endless opportunities to grow, learn and have impact.
“As skills are becoming the new currency and we adopt more agile ways of working across Woolworths Group, team members can acquire new skills and experiences by working in cross functional teams, taking on complex challenges.”
Woolworths Group is committed to investing in unlocking on-the-job experiences.
“It's also about investing in skills, such as multi-skilling our store teams so that they can work in various departments across a store,” says Stewart.
“These initiatives are about building skills and unlocking on-the-job experiences, as well as providing greater predictability and more meaningful hours, and allowing our team to be more in control of when and how they work.
We continue to use new technology and invest in skills and development, offering programs focused on building leadership capabilities and skills in emerging areas like data.”
Learn more about careers at Woolworths Group here.