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The largest proportion of the retail sector workforce is employed in sales and customer service occupations (50%).

Many retailers’ head offices and substantial operations are based in London and, therefore, it has the highest proportion of managers and senior officials (21%).

The retail sector is affected by the high levels of staff turnover. Some of this can be accounted for by seasonal demand for temporary work.

Designing and rolling out e-commerce schemes have increased the demand for appropriate technical personnel and skills, but online trading has also placed new requirements on the marketing and customer service aspects of many retail businesses. There are emerging job opportunities to support the online operations of the larger retailers in, for example, web portal design, front line administration of online transactions, logistics and distribution, and online data mining and statistical analysis of data collected on web-user shopping and browsing.

The key future trends in occupations in the retail sector are:

  • the dominance of sales assistants and retail cashiers will continue, but will also increase
  • the proportion of managers in the retail workforce is forecast to fall
  • elementary occupations are projected to experience job losses

Source: Skillsmart Retail LMI Report April 2010 and Skillsmart Retail Analysis 2008-09


Skill requirements and shortages

The retail sector is rated most favourably for developing skills useful in any workplace and for offering a wide range of opportunities for people of all ages. Retail is also perceived as a sector which gives individuals responsibility at an early stage.

  • Softer skills of customer handling and communication are the skills that are most required in retail
  • 22% of English retailers reporting skill gaps identified customer handling, team working, problem solving and oral communications as areas of development
  • 15% of English retailers stated that they had skill gaps, predominantly in sales and customer service (12%) and managerial (6%) occupations

Source: Skillsmart Retail LMI Report April 2010

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Occupational hard-to-fill vacancies and skill shortage vacancies

  • 15% of employers in the sector report vacancies.
  • 4% report hard-to-fill vacancies, compared to 7% across all sectors.
  • There are around 12,621 hard-to-fill vacancies reported, representing 0.5% of employment in the sector.
  • 2% report skill shortage vacancies, compared to 5% across all sectors.
  • The highest proportion of skills shortage vacancies are for sales (59%) and for skilled trades (11%)
  • 18% of establishments report skills gaps, compared to 15% across all sectors.

Skills gaps are highest for those in sales, followed by those in elementary roles and managers. Gaps are reported to be for customer-handling, technical and practical skills, team-working and oral communication. The impact of hard-to-fill vacancies is reported to be:

  • increased workload for other staff (71%)
  • increased operating costs (29%)
  • delays developing new products (29%)

Source: National Employer Skills Survey 2007

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New and emerging jobs

There are eight job areas which are common in any category of retail from grocery stores, electrical stores, to fashion outlets, these include:

  • Store operations
  • Human resources/training
  • Finance and administration
  • Buying
  • Customer contact centres
  • Marketing
  • Logistics
  • Information Technology (IT)

In addition to these jobs there are new and emerging job roles. For instance, the role of a visual merchandiser is growing in importance. A visual merchandiser’s objective is to manage the aspects that work to trigger the consumer’s buying impulses. As shoppers can find identical merchandise in more than one retailer, so how the products are presented is the key to creating an advantage over competitors and, to be successful, visual merchandisers must forge a close working relationships with all departments so that brand integrity is constant. Artistic and creative ability are essential for the role and a background in 3D design and IT is useful.

Designing and rolling out e-commerce schemes has increased the demand for appropriate technical personnel and skills in the first place, but online trading has also placed new requirements on the marketing and customer service aspects of many retail businesses.

Source: Skillsmart Retail LMI Report April 2010

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Salaries can vary between employers and locations within the UK, so the following is a guide to salary levels in the sector. The following details the average 2009 annual pay for a range of job roles in the UK retail sector:

New goods in specialised and non-specialised stores

  • Storage and warehouse managers £29,000
  • Retail and wholesale managers £23,000
  • Sales and retail assistants £14,000
  • Shelf fillers £14,000

Food, beverages and tobacco sold in specialised stores

  • Butchers meat cutters £17,000
  • Bakers flour confectioners £17,000

Pharmaceutical and medical goods, cosmetic and toiletries

  • Pharmacists & pharmacologists £39,000
  • Pharmacy managers £40,000

Not in stores

  • Telephone salespersons £18,000
  • Customer care occupations £17,000

Source: Skillsmart Retail LMI Report April 2010

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Occupational roles and sources of information

The National Careers Service website also has detailed occupational profiles for some occupations in the Retail sales and customer service section including: Antique dealer; Buyer; Checkout operator; Counter service assistant; Customer service manager; Market trader; Pet shop assistant; Retail jeweller; Retail manager; and Shop keeper. These profiles include information on entry points, training, working environment, employment opportunities and expected annual salary.

Careersbox has films of those working in the retail sector, including:Customer adviser; Store manager; Assistant supervisor; Section management trainee; Management trainee; and Customer service representative. Films are from those already working in the sector giving an insight into what it is like and what their role involves.

The Graduate Prospects website (the UK graduate careers website) has a section entitled retail and sales, which details the past, present and future issues of the sector, lists key roles and occupations as well as case studies and further contacts for the sector.

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