Retail job prospects – what the Retail Choice Retail Employment Survey says about the market.

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

The latest Retail Choice employment report certainly makes for some interesting reading. Before I give an overview of some of its key findings I thought it necessary to provide some further context. It is really important to highlight that the figures compiled reflect the period from January to June 2013.Whilst I have commented on the Retail Choice figures previously I think now more than ever there is a changing picture in the employment market. Whilst the report reflects our own experience in the first six months of the year, what is of particular interest is what has happened to employment activity in the last 2 months in terms of increasing activity – a point I will discuss later.

Probably not surprising to those that have been on the retail employment market in the last 6 months is that the overall number of vacancies posted declined by some 14% which was accompanied by an increase in the number of applications per job of 11%. To put this into perspective, these vacancy levels on Retail Choice are back to the recessionary levels seen in 2009. Some vacancy areas held up better than others but it is fair to say that during the first 6 months of 2013 it was harder securing a job in retail than the corresponding period of 2012. The reasons for the overall market decline have been well commented on in terms of recessionary effects and the changing economics of retail (with a move to e-commerce and m- commerce) which have lead to fewer physical stores needing less staff and management.

As a result of the above, the specialisms like e-commerce and marketing have seen increases in vacancy numbers but it is in operational retail roles where the decline has been more dramatic. Store Manager vacancies for example have fallen some 15% whilst application rates have increased by 19% showing just how competitive the market has been.

So where are we now? Well the last couple of months have seen a flurry of more positive data coming through from pretty much every angle. Retail data from the BRC has been very positive with July seeing the strongest sales increase since 2006 and improving footfall. In line with this is broader economic data, for example that GDP is improving whilst unemployment falls. There certainly appears to have been a boost to consumer confidence further underpinned by the critically important housing market. The weather has provided a further boost in comparison to the washout that we experienced last year.

I am hesitant to say the retail recruitment market has definitely turned for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a country and as individuals we are still in a position of considerable debt and so any recovery we experience is going to be relatively slow and long. Of course things will improve but it won’t be substantial and it certainly won’t be overnight. Secondly, there are many fundamental and structural changes taking place in retail that all have an impact on retail recruitment market.

As I have discussed before in my previous blog Stop the doom-mongering – the high street isn’t dead the market for high calibre Store Managers, Area Managers etc. will still exist but as the high street is reshaped we have to accept that there will be less of these roles and the competition for them will be high. At the same time naturally the demand for e-commerce related skills and other specialist areas is going to increase.

However, as my colleague recently wrote in his blog The positive signs which indicate the job market is finally picking up “For many candidates now feels like the right time to move. The market has been slow since 2009, for many people this is a long time to put your career on hold. This is starting to change and we are seeing a great deal of people coming to market, finally willing to take the risk of moving because their present employer can’t support their career aspirations.” Even in a recovering market most job opportunities are driven by movement of people from role to role rather than the creation of new roles and therefore buoyancy is heavily determined by peoples’ willingness to move.

Signs of this movement are certainly encouraging and for all the reasons discussed above and from anecdotal information we have picked up the market certainly seems to be improving. I look forward to reading the next Retail Choice report early in the New Year which I hope will have a much more positive message.

N.B. Figures quoted based on the Retail Choice Retail Employment Survey H1, January- June 2013

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