What are retail industry employment trends?

In a very interesting development that mirrors the future of other large employers, the focus of retail industry employment is migrating from quantity to quality. Total retail industry employment is shrinking because of cost-cutting, consolidation, technology advances and the rise of Internet shopping. Those lower on the pay scale, particularly selling-floor associates and back-office workers, are most affected. But industry employment is growing in higher-skilled occupations, including and especially those involving the technical, logistical and managerial skills required to turn retailers into efficient, integrated, multichannel, merchandising and selling operations.


For example, retail employment declined last year (department stores alone lost 38,700 jobs), even though it was a good year for the industry overall. But stores still have to scramble to find qualified employees who fit their needs, and then make competitive offers to get the people they want. The unemployment rate for people 25 years of age and older with at least a bachelor’s degree is just 1.9%; that spells trouble for retailers.


The shift of employment focus from quantity to quality will effect the hiring practices of all retailers, from the largest (like Wal-Mart), with 1.3 million workers, to the mid-sized, smallest, specialty chains, and stand-alone stores.


Limited Brands, for example, expects its workforce to grow this year. The corporation has more than 100,000 employees, and is significantly expanding Victoria’s Secret Stores. But the new hires will tend to be higher-skilled. The company is expanding its merchant-in-training and planner-in-training programs.  To take another example, retailers have stepped up recruiting at the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, but according to a report in WWD, they’re being more selective than ever. Retailers are aggressively interviewing students and only very cautiously making offers. Macy’s is one of the biggest recruiters at Arizona, along with J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart and Walgreens.



There is more variety in the kinds of positions these companies are recruiting for, according to the school, such as positions across the supply chain, and in accounting, finance and management. The skills required for traditional retailing jobs such as buyer, analyst and planner are also metamorphosing to adapt to the new retail environment. In a tight labor market for skilled workers, retailers are recognizing the need for a deep bench of talent they can develop.


For example, Steve & Barry’s University Sportswear is planning to open 100 new stores, each of which employs about 100 people. The company is recruiting for both the corporate office and the field; its training program brings recruits such as store managers to New York where they take “responsibility” workshops and get immersed in the Steve & Barry’s culture. More than 250 graduates from top schools such as Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell and Duke have been through the program in the past couple years.

Filed Under Trends in Employment