There were 3,400 more full-time UK retail jobs in the first quarter of 2011, compared to the same three months last year, according to new research published today.
The Retail Employment Monitor from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and law firm Bond Pearce found that the number of retail outlets grew by 5.3 per cent during the same period.
Data from the study indicates that food retailers are the most confident about investing and creating jobs, and this is backed up by recent announcements by grocers such as Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Waitrose, all of whom are planning to expand in 2011.
Department store group John Lewis is also opening a number of its at home stores later this year, as well as its first new London outlet for years at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre, in September.
Despite this initially encouraging news, the survey suggests that the outlook for the rest of the year remains tough for the industry as a whole.
Whereas 63 per cent of retailers questioned for the research said they would keep staffing levels the same in the next quarter, there were still 29 per cent of retailers who plan to reduce their workforce.
It appears that squeezed retailer margins, poor consumer confidence and other economic constraints are having are having a negative impact on industry optimism, especially considering only eight per cent of UK retailers expected to reduce staff numbers this time last year - and that was just after the country had exited a recession.
The tricky situation retailers are confronted with is highlighted by figures for March alone, which show that full-time employment in retail fell 0.8 per cent year-on-year.
Stephen Robertson, Director General of the BRC, said: “Consumer demand is weak and retailers, looking ahead and trying to keep their operating costs down, are less optimistic about future employment.
“Even so, the retail sector generally continues to expand. Retail is the largest private sector employer and, with over a third of its workforce aged under 25, any growth provides important opportunities for the young unemployed who are particularly struggling to find work.
“A lighter regulatory regime and reduction in financial burdens for retailers remain essential to helping retailers create much-needed jobs.”