Retail should invest in upskilling to close employee skills gaps

A report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills suggests retailers will need to invest in upskilling to prevent a drop-off from older employees and appeal to the younger generation

The retail sector should offer upskilling to both older employees and younger workers entering an organisation to keep up with changes in the space, according to a report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

As older members of the sector retire, they are being replaced by older graduates rather than younger pre-university candidates due to a lack of the skills needed for modern retail sales and customer service assistant roles.

“New technology requires workers to have up-to-date IT skills, which can be a challenge for older workers who are less likely to have good IT skills than younger workers,” said the report.

“To continue to attract younger workers, the opportunity to use and develop technology-based skills and knowledge within a retail career should be promoted,” the report continued.

The changing expectation of customers, as well as heavy technology investment, has made the need for technology skills in retail jobs more important.

It has also, therefore, increased the need for retail employees to be more adept at negotiating with and persuading better informed customers who are technologically enabled, but only a fifth of retailers are aware that new technology has caused a skills gaps in the sector.

It also means managerial level staff will need retraining as the omni-channel approach ushers in the merging of online and bricks-and-mortar retail.

The report suggests older workers could train new employees in customer services, while younger workers could mentor the older generation on how retail technology works or build confidence in other related areas, such as social media.

“To ensure training and upskilling is effective and targeted appropriately, retailers will need to review their methods of diagnosing skills gaps and better match these with suitable training programmes,” said the report.

But the retail technology skills gap is not the only concern for retailers, as many are failing to adapt to the increase in technology, which is creating new online, multi-channel and omni-channel markets, as well as more powerful customers.

It is the consensus that the sector appears to be reacting to the increase in technology and what comes with it, rather than making strategic and innovative changes for the future.

The resulting industry changes as a result of the increase in technology, such as point-of-sale devices, beacons or browse-and-order hubs, has also led to a change in logistics and supply chain behaviour.

According to the report, larger organisations are choosing to adopt larger, dispersed warehouses with a fleet of vehicles for deployment, whereas smaller retailers are focused on faster deliveries and online goods tracking.

Read more about retail technology

  • Retailers should be adopting a unified platform and rethinking the value of stores if they want a true omni-channel business, says Demandware
  • Retailers know consumers are becoming more mobile and want an omni-channel experience, but customers still seek more

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Hi Clare,

As an employee of the UK's largest retail charity retailTRUST I found this piece fascinating, and extremely pertinent to our cause.

We actually run a programme called retailCORe, which aims to develop the careers and job prospects of those working in retail, and young people looking to get into the industry. It's forecast that we'll get over 1,000 young unemployed people back into work this year alone.

This involves coaching, training and work placements, a lot of which naturally addresses the technological skill gap that exists in the sector. We also work closely with Oxford Summer School, who are running a 'Digital Bootcamp' designed to 'equip retail talent with the knowledge, skillset and behaviours to flourish in the digital age.'

We also offer help with redundancy, which feeds into your article's point on the effect online is having on the highstreet.

I'd be really keen to speak further about the possibilities of a piece on the work we're doing to try and address the issues in retail that your article discusses.

Thanks for your time, and for an excellent article.

Kind regards,

Brian Bartlett
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