Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Are You Being Served? Skills Gaps and Training Needs Within the Retail Sector

Employment in the Retail and Wholesale Distribution sector was estimated as 4.7 million in 2002, representing 17 per cent of UK employment. The sector is seen as a major source of new employment opportunities over the next decade. At the same time the sector is reporting serious skills shortages, particularly customer handling and communication skills. These general concerns fail to reveal the diversity and complexity of the sector, which comprises both major high street retailers and small corner shops.

Whilst bemoaning the lack of suitably skilled recruits, the retail sector is also one of the largest employers of part-time student labour. Skillsmart, the newly established Retail Sector Skills Council, has set out an ambitious programme of reform for the sector’s training and development needs. The challenge should not be underestimated since the scale and diversity of the skill requirements is substantial, forming a continuum from basic skills to high-level management skills.

This paper will attempt to identify the nature of the skills shortages across the sector; explore the ways in which retailers are attempting to redress these shortages, particularly through the use of part-time student labour; and asses the extent to which current training provision is likely to meet the needs of the sector over the next decade.

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