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Is a better-educated workforce good for retail?


Halloween may be over, but the retail industry is still feeling spooked.

It is not the witches and ghosts that are making everybody’s skin crawl, but rather the looming Office for National Statistics’ unemployment figures that are keeping retailers awake at night.

Last month saw the publications of the highest UK unemployment in 17 years. And next week’s figures for the month of October are hardly going to signal a light at the end of the very long tunnel.

Arguably these figures don’t really have an instant negative impact on strong or growing businesses from an employment perspective.

But they do result in more choice in the level of applicants looking for work. Of course more importantly they do signal a declining customer base if people are losing their jobs and income.

Online retailers have so far escaped the carnage experienced on the high street. But retailers of every hue are noticing the change in the CVs coming through the door.

Graduates, unable to enter the career of their choice are scrabbling around for any work they can find. And it is becoming increasingly apparent that highly qualified graduates are not just on the shelf, but stacking shelves as well.

Logically, this would appear to be a good thing for the retail industry, which truth be told, has not traditionally been seen as being full of bright young things merrily helping customers.

But what is more important – hiring somebody who is less academically qualified but more motivated to succeed, or somebody with a Masters in Medieval History who is simply biding his time before they can get a “proper job”.

On Jersey, where is based, it has been difficult to find enough staff. But Jersey hardly reflects the rest of the UK.

The influx of skilled workers within the retail industry is fantastic. But having a diverse workforce does present new challenges to managers in terms of the culture and systems that need to be in place. For example, it is widely recognised that over-qualified workers can become bored and feel demotivated by less-skilled work.

Which begs the question, is having a highly skilled, over-qualified workforce actually a benefit? When the job market is flooded with candidates, retail experience is key and is what I would look for first and foremost.

The retail industry can be an attractive place to work, not just by using commission-based pay, but also by offering additional training schemes and qualifications. This provides employees with a tangible road to progression, increasing motivation and encouraging employees to stay in the same job. If entry level staff are becoming better qualified, then all the more reason to provide every opportunity for them to move into more senior positions.

Having high-skilled members of staff in the retail industry is welcome. However, the emphasis is always on having a motivated, enthusiastic workforce with core customer service strengths and a real passion for retail. This doesn’t always mean they need to have letters after their name.

Aaron Chatterley is CEO of online health & beauty retailer

Published on Wednesday 02 November by Editorial Assistant

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