retail industry, digitalisation, manpower shortage, upksilling, progressive wage model

Two in five (44%) retail employees plan to leave the sector in the next year, citing low salaries (56%), dealing with unreasonable customers (52%), and long working hours (46%).

The retail industry in Singapore is grappling with a manpower shortage, with nine in 10 retail employees either ‘somewhat agreeing’ (48%) or ‘strongly agreeing’ (45%) that there is a manpower shortage.

Such a trend emphasises the need for retailers to address workforce concerns — two in five (44%) retail employees plan to leave the sector in the next year, citing low salaries (56%), dealing with unreasonable customers (52%), and long working hours (46%) as the top push factors. Moreover, 50% of retail employees say that their employer has not offered any support in terms of career development, with seven in 10 employees (69%) reporting that they have not attended any training programmes in the last two years.

Conversely, only one in five employees intend to remain in the industry.

This data comes courtesy NTUC LearningHub’s Industry Insights Report 2022 on Retail, which is based on a survey of 200 retail employees in Singapore, and interviews with industry practitioners and experts.

On a more positive note, the low entry requirements for the retail industry make it easier for those without much work experience to find employment. This makes the industry more welcoming for those wanting to join. Overall. the top five motivations for joining the retail industry are as follows:

  1. Easy to get a job in retail (41%),
  2. Staff discount/freebies (39%),
  3. Exposure to people from all walks of life (36%),
  4. Develop communication skills (29%),
  5. Flexible schedules (27%).

Immediate priorities for retail sector employers

As technology enables retailers to streamline processes and improve efficiency, nearly three-quarter (73%) of retail employees agree that their workplace has digitalised in the past two years. However, over half of employees (54%) are concerned about how digitalisation in the retail sector will affect their jobs. In fact, only 16% share they are ‘very comfortable’ operating retail technologies, with 30% expressing concern over the spate of new technologies introduced at work.

At the same time, just over one in three (36%) employees reveal that their employer has prepared them to a ‘very small extent’ or ‘not at all’ for the digitalisation of the retail sector, with 31% of employees expressing concern on the lack of proper training on new retail technologies.

Despite that, the retail workforce remains optimistic and is motivated to acquire new skills. The top front-end skills that retail employees hope to be trained in are:

  • People and relationship management (44%)
  • Customer experience management (42%)
  • Problem identification (33%) 

Additionally, the top back-end skills they would like to pick up are data analytics (39%), customer behaviour analysis (36%), and social media management (32%) skills.

Emphasising on the need for employers to build a future-ready workforce, Tay Ee Learn, Chief Sector Skills Officer at NTUC LearningHub, says, “As retail technologies rapidly evolve and expand, so must the competencies of retail employees. While it is increasingly necessary for retail frontliners to be tech-savvy, it is equally important for the back-end employees to keep pace with the changing demands of the retail sector."

With the recent implementation of the progressive wage model (PWM) for retail workers, along with various schemes and funding support available, such as training subsidies and mentorship for enterprise transformation including job redesign and training needs analysis, retailers can better prepare for changes in the sector and proactively implement measures that seek to fill the skills gaps by providing training and upskilling opportunities.

The PWM also aims to set out a career pathway for those in the industry. Among the top career tracks that retail employees are interested in pursuing, e-commerce (37%), marketing (31%), and retail operations (30%) were the most popular.  

However, 28% of retail employees are still not aware of the career pathways available to them in the industry. Half of employees also say their employers have not offered any career development support to them. Among those who have received support, retail employees elaborate that their employer has provided opportunities for upward progression (27%), opportunities to navigate a different career track within retail (23%) and support in identifying their skills gap (20%). 

On the other hand, 69% of employees have not enrolled in any retail-related training programmes in the past two years.

For employers looking to rectify this situation, here are the top upskilling challenges faced by employees in retail: 

  • Unsure of what skills to learn (46%),
  • Having to upskill during non-working hours (41%),
  •  Unsure if there will be opportunities provided to apply newly acquired skills (33%),
  • Lack of financial support from employer to enrol in courses (32%),
  • Unsure where to find courses or training providers (25%).

All images/ NTUC LearningHub’s Industry Insights Report 2022 on Retail

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