The retail trade sector has been steadily gaining ground since last spring, including a better-than-expected 2020 holiday season. While foot traffic to malls may have been down, package shipments were up—so much so that, as reported by The National Retail Federation (NRF), retail sales in November and December grew by 8.3% in comparison to sales during the same time period in 2019.
The strong showing in retail spending at the end of 2020 was also evident in the sector’s unemployment numbers. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for retailers declined to 5.9% in December, a major reversal from April when millions of job losses due to pandemic-related shutdowns drove the unemployment rate up to 18.6%.
While the sector’s unemployment rate has ticked back up slightly following the holiday hiring season, retail managed to create 41,000 jobs in February and 22,500 in March. And though there are still fewer jobs in retail than before the pandemic began, many companies find themselves struggling to attract the talent they need within a completely different hiring environment.
Retail job growth continues its shift to workers already in high demand well before the onset of the pandemic.
Retailers are now forced to compete for workers already in high demand before the pandemic hit. Major changes in consumer habits over the past year—which heavily favor online shopping, BOPIS (buy-online-pickup-in-store) and home delivery—mean that retail must attract increasing numbers of workers to fill positions in technology and transportation. More specifically, analytics compiled by labor market data company Emsi indicate that the largest increases in job postings over the past year have been for software developers, computer operators, and commercial and delivery drivers.
Insights from NRF reinforce the trends seen in job posting data. As Susan Reda, vice president for education and strategy at the federation, notes, “The biggest takeaway from 2020 is the shift to ecommerce; consumers have embraced online shopping with vigor and retailers have responded with the speedy rollout of new technologies, new apps and new ways of meeting shoppers’ needs. The words ‘contactless’ and ‘frictionless’ have quickly become part of the vernacular and companies that have managed to break the mold and adapt are winning.” Greg Petro, founder of First Insight, an experience management and digital testing firm for the retail industry, concurs in a recent Forbes essay, “Fewer stores does not mean fewer retail jobs.”
The main takeaway for talent acquisition is that as retail hiring needs continue to shift to tech workers and those who can pack, ship and deliver items directly to consumers, recruiters must be extremely proactive in terms of building a talent pipeline to meet current and future demand. For example, having the right Talent CRM makes it possible to automate engagement activities and put actionable lists of qualified, interested and available candidates directly in the hands of recruiters and store managers, while an end-to-end virtual recruiting solution allows them to adapt their hiring processes quickly in order to secure the talent needed to support the business.
Experienced retail workers are in short supply.
A Pew Research Center survey finds that 84% of retail workers say that doing their job mostly from home isn’t possible. Given the high level of interaction with the public required by many retail positions, some workers previously employed in the sector ultimately decided to pursue other employment options or stop working entirely until the pandemic subsides in order to protect their health.
In addition, far more women than men have dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic due to the demands of caring for young children while schools and daycare centers remain closed. Data from the American Community Survey reveals that, prior to the pandemic, 56.5% of retail workers were women, which means further strain on the available talent pool for retail jobs.
Innovative talent attraction approaches offer additional talent pipelining opportunities.
For those who still struggle to attract retail talent, innovative approaches undertaken by well-known retailers can serve as a source of inspiration. More specifically, A recent Harvard Business Review article explores the challenges employers face in “hiring low-skill, entry-level workers when economic conditions improve” and how forward-thinking retailers are boosting talent and business outcomes by adopting a recruiting model known as open hiring. The model “shifts resources to invest in workers, rather than finding ways to exclude them.” Employers such as Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods Market and The Body Shop have all realized
success through open hiring, including decreases in turnover, increases in productivity and a more resilient business.
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