What does the government’s plan for jobs mean for retail?

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In more ways than one, retail has been on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. It has been among a handful of sectors that have led efforts to keep the country running, ensuring stores and supply chains of essential goods have remained open.

And yet, for all the reliance on retailers over the past four months – and the importance of the sector now to any economic and social recovery – our industry is also one of the most exposed to the economic impact of the disease.

The Centre for Retail Research estimates that 20,622 stores will close this year and job losses will increase to 235,704. This is supported by the British Chamber of Commerce, which has reported that 29% of businesses plan to cut the size of their workforce in the next three months.

For retail leaders across the country, the next few months will be critical in determining the future shape of British retail.

The response of the government and the measures to support retail have divided opinion. Although the most headline-grabbing financial packages announced recently have been pointed at the hospitality sector, initiatives have been unveiled that leaders of retail businesses must tap into.

This crisis has accelerated the changes retail has been experiencing for two decades and there is little doubt it will permanently alter many of the paradigms we have come to take for granted about the industry.

But important parts of its DNA will endure – most significantly that this is a sector that draws its strength from its colleagues and its position as the biggest private sector employer in the UK. In return, retail is central to tackling issues like social mobility and youth unemployment.

“This crisis has accelerated the changes retail has been experiencing for two decades”

As the government has responded to Covid-19, we’ve seen that the communication is often muddled and details are still in short supply. However, it is essential for everyone that retail’s leadership looks hard at how it makes the most of the government initiative to support people into work.

The chancellor’s plan for jobs is aimed at protecting, supporting and creating roles. By giving employers the confidence to retain and hire employees, it is our hope that the proposal will create jobs across the country and support young people taking their first steps into a fulfilling life in retail.

Our position at the heart of how retailers think about the health and wellbeing of their people affords us a unique insight into the HR strategies of the UK’s biggest retailers. And we recently held a closed-door session with people directors from some of those businesses on that topic.

The consensus was that a slow and well-thought-out return to normality for the shopworkers is key. With people on furlough, shielding and redeployed across the sector, there is less desire for new recruitment at this time. However, planning for future opportunities will still be vital as we continue to move forward.

Clearly the huge shift to online has impacted the shape of operations in a short space of time, and the need for more support in warehousing, logistics and customer service has seen organisations redeploy employees and recruit heavily in these areas.

Trainee-led approach

A through-the-line approach will be important to enable success. One way to achieve this is for a traineeship to lead to an apprenticeship, both in retail and warehousing. Early indications show that organisations could receive £1,000 per trainee, for the first 10 individuals that come on board.

In terms of apprenticeships, it is likely that employers could be paid £2,000 to take on 16- to 24-year-old apprentices and £1,500 for an apprentice over the age of 25.

The main focus will be to get the right people into the business and support them through the apprenticeship. Again, having a detailed plan is essential to making this happen.

“The main focus will be to get the right people into the business and support them through the apprenticeship”

Many retailers are intending to use their levy underspend to sponsor people into other companies who don’t pay into the levy. Seeing how passionately organisations are keen to support each other was a really exciting and encouraging part of the discussion – only underpinning retail’s long-standing commitment to employment.

Although the details of the policy are yet to come, there is a strong desire among retailers to identify how traineeships, apprenticeships and the Kickstart scheme can work together. retailTRUST will explore this further and create pathways to help businesses recruit and retain young people.

This article was originally published on Retail Week

If you would like to find out more about retailTRUST vocational services please contact [email protected]