Retail recruitment trends

What recruitment and retention trends can we expect to see in the UK retail market in the coming months? Peter Gerrard, Managing Director of Michael Page Retail, has some interesting predictions.

Retail market overview

With the second consecutive quarter of reduced household spend, the UK is now officially in a recession. Consumers are tightening their collective belt and if you really need evidence of how hard retailers have been hit, look no further than the recent collapse of Woolworths and MFI.
From the crucible of the current economic cycle must emerge a galvanized breed of retailer; one with the vision to react positively to changing consumer behaviour. Each will have to fight to maintain their market share and crucial to this will be the ability to deliver an attractive retail proposition.
The retention and motivation of staff across all functions will become increasingly important. Investment in people is fast becoming a prime strategic goal for retailers who, after all, employ 11% of the UK workforce.

Staff turnover

Turnover among Managers tends to be higher in London and the South East. If a retailer is perceived as having a long-term, secure future and a culture that tangibly values its people, then high staff turnover can be arrested.
The retail industry is in direct competition with high street banking and call centres. These industries are typically looking for people with a similar skill set and retailers need to focus on their corporate branding to attract and retain candidates.

Staff retention

Staff retention can be difficult in this sector but retailers increasingly have structured succession and progression programmes in place at every level of the business. Staff feel buoyed by a clearly defined career path and companies renowned for organic growth find that their employees are much happier.
A recent report from the Chartered Institute of Management found that while there were high levels of motivation among managers, as well as a positive attitude towards working longer hours there was also a real sense of frustration with their employers.
The survey also identified a desire for more flexitime, along with a feeling that there were too many barriers to promotion. 40% of managers said that they joined their current organisation because of development opportunities, only to discover there was no budget for training.
The CIM report also suggests that, without the right management, enthusiastic employees can present as many challenges as those posed by de-motivated staff. For example, motivated employees said they would move on from a job if they did not see rewards for their efforts.
So what motivates staff in the right way? Company values have a major impact on motivation levels, but when employees were asked which values best described their organisation, trust, innovation, passion and staff commitment came bottom of the list. This highlights a serious mismatch between managers and the values of the employers.


Retailers admit to facing problems in recruiting appropriately qualified staff and the skill shortages that exist are largely due to the limited number of candidates with the requisite experience. The causes of this shortage are numerous but, in most cases, they can be attributed to retail-trained professionals seeking opportunities to work outside the industry.
There is currently a shortage of suitable candidates, particularly in the South East and some key locations across the UK. This has been caused by an exodus of the candidate population to other sectors that appreciate their transferable skills. A perfect example of this is what’s happening in the retail banking sector, with banks and building societies recruiting managers with retail experience to benefit from their customer service skills.

‘X' factor

The ‘X' factor for many employers in this sector is a ‘can do' attitude, although leadership potential and strategic thinking are also highly valued. Retailers may have an idea of who they are looking for but lack a clear methodology for attracting talent, especially graduates.
Few companies have a defined staff retention strategy, relying on the same factors that attracted employees to guarantee their loyalty. In truth, it’s holiday entitlement, flexi-time and benefits options that persuade people to stay. 
As the retail market continues to struggle there’s a tendency to opt for candidates with a proven track record, enriching their organisation with ideas and methodologies from other businesses. Equally, retailers that take a long-term view will benefit from developing new talent, especially with careful mentoring.