Lean streets

With the high street in real, long-term crisis, how can retail employers attract talent

With the high street in real, long-term crisis, how can retail employers attract talent to the sector, in the face of constant negative performance and reflective media coverage? Neil Brodie, Commercial Director of RetailChoice.com assesses how the sector must adapt its recruitment capabilities, to keep pace with change.

It is hardly a secret that the UK high street is in crisis, with several big name casualties such as; La Senza, JJB and Clintons, and most recently Comet. So what impact has this had on retail as an employer as well as recruitment into the sector? For retailers it’s still very much an employer’s market, our own research suggests that the number of roles available has dropped by 13 percent in the first half of 2012, meaning that there are now many more applicants available than roles to fill. It must be noted that the drop in roles is a worry for the UK economy as a whole, especially when you consider that the retail sector represents ten percent of the total jobs market. In the first six months of 2012, there was an average of 17 applications per retail role in the UK as a whole, but in cities such as Glasgow this figure was as high as 33.

For employers, this means they have to go through more and more CV’s to sift out the most appropriate candidates. However, this also means that employers get the opportunity to be more selective over the candidates that they take forward, ensuring a higher calibre of employee, something which is going to be increasingly important as the retail industry faces up to the challenges of a multi-channel sales environment and continuing economic difficulties. The onset of e-commerce and other forms of multi-channel retailing have not only changed the way in which consumers shop but also the type of staff that retailers need to recruit. As such, employers are looking for candidates that are experienced with specialist skills in areas such as technology and design to thrive, increasingly important for roles with high street retailers and supermarkets. Specialist skills, such as digital, design and advertising are in demand and candidates with these abilities can expect a 20 percent increase in salary compared to more generalist positions.

As there is a skills shortage in the sector for these sorts of roles, retailers must adapt their recruitment strategies if they want to recruit the best talent. Employers have two choices; increase training in these areas to existing employees or attract people who already have these skills from other sectors. As stores become less of a sales tool and more about brand awareness and customer experience, the need for highly-trained brand ambassadors, instead of conventional sales assistants, will only increase. Retailers need people who embody their brand, can demonstrate their product and have a high level of knowledge of the different options and solutions available to the potential purchaser. As well as needing to find candidates with the right skillset and specialist experience, employers must think about how they advertise vacancies to attract the best candidates.

In today’s technology-driven world, it’s impossible for recruiters to ignore the popularity and convenience of smartphones and tablets. Job seekers have changed their behaviour and now expect websites, including jobs boards to be fully mobile compatible and easy to navigate on their handheld device. As more and more people work “on-the-move”, many retail candidates inevitably review job adverts via smartphones and tablet devices, a step-change for reaching a wider field of potential candidates, especially as the best candidates are often busy and struggle to manage the job-hunting while already in employment, the smartphone is the most efficient use of any spare time, or applying for jobs during their commute. Recruiters, of course know this, but few really make the best of capabilities and even now some employers are even ignoring this communication channel altogether, putting them at a significant disadvantage to competitors in the quest for good candidates and sought-after specialist talent.

With many sectors and companies having to keep a watchful eye on their budgets and justify company expenditure (including employee salaries), attracting the best talent has never been more crucial to ensuring market competitiveness. As such, employers in every sector must think carefully about the specialist skills they require and ensure the candidates they meet fulfil them. Although competition is fierce, especially in the retail industry, there will always be a candidate who is a perfect fit for the position; employers just need to reach them by advertising through the right channels.


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