Retail is a hugely important part of our economy, and has a huge role to play in supporting social mobility. For many, it is their first experience of work, offering an amazing variety of development opportunities from which they learn many important skills to take into the rest of their life. For those who stay within the sector, retail offers outstanding career opportunities, with a wide range of entry-level jobs across the country. Retail recruits locally, within communities, providing opportunities in cities, post-industrial towns, rural locations and coastal places. This is one of its unique features.
The challenge for retail is to make sure it is making the best of the talent which it has. It has an above-average proportion of employees from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds, in contrast to professional occupations, where 31% come from a professional family background, while only 20% are from families who worked in routine or manual trades. While progression between in-branch roles is common, pathways from in-branch roles to positions in central offices remain slow and unclear for many. Employers may need to consider how to ensure that talent is cultivated through investment in skills, and given opportunities to progress.
Our report ‘Increasing in-work training and progression for frontline workers’ found that, despite the benefits to employers, progression from the frontline within the retail sector is low and offering training to frontline workers is also less common. The UK’s biggest economic challenges include upskilling, reskilling and retraining all people, and although retail is responding to this challenge, in some areas, such as investment in adult skills, the trends are not encouraging.
Many organisations are seeking different approaches to the recruitment and development of staff, particularly around improving in-work progression. Some are working to address this situation through work experience schemes for branch managers and other measures that aim to bridge the gap. These businesses benefit fully from the talent they already have in place and create a culture of support and progression that increases staff loyalty and retention. But use of these programmes across the sector as a whole remains low, and for many this is the next step to take.
For the sector to tackle some of these issues, data collection is also a vital part of the picture. Measuring the socio-economic background of employees and potential recruits, collecting accurate information and analysing it intelligently, is the critical first step. These measurements help organisations know and plan for what needs to be done in order to improve socio-economic diversity and inclusion.
This practical toolkit has been created because you, the retail sector, have asked for it. It presents a roadmap for any business, big or small, wanting to find and develop talent by looking in places they might not have previously thought to look. Whether you are just starting out on this journey or have ambitions to be among the best, it is helpful to have strategies which enable all applicants, no matter their background, to demonstrate their skills and talent. Ultimately, this toolkit provides guidance to help you drive improvements in your business by thinking and acting differently in terms of the kind of workforce you need.