How Is The Struggling High Street Impacting Retail Recruitment?

 In Evolution of Talent

Rarely a week goes past without news reports about Britain’s struggling high street. Some of the country’s best-known brands have gone into administration over the last few years; while others have had to undergo significant restructures to secure their futures. Economic uncertainty, Brexit and changing consumer buying behaviours are challenging retailers to think differently about how they structure their organisation and their workforce – so they can remain competitive in an uncertain market.

In spite of the doom and gloom that’s reported in the press, we are seeing some clear signs of optimism across the sector. Each quarter, ManpowerGroup ask 2,100+ employers about their hiring intentions for the next three months. In retail, we’ve found that the Employment Outlook for Q2 2019 is +3. This means that retailers plan to increase their headcount in the coming quarter, albeit at a slower pace than the previous three months.

Many retailers have already overhauled the staffing of their stores and distribution centres in recent years. What’s more, some back-office functions that don’t directly contribute to revenue growth are having to put the brakes on when it comes to hiring. Both factors mean there has been a slow-down in hiring plans for the coming three months.

Nonetheless, the sector does still plan to recruit additional workers and expand headcount in Q2, and this is predominantly being driven by a growth in workers across tech functions. To drive online sales, they’re embarking on digital transformation projects that will develop best-in-class buying experiences. As a result, they’re recruiting highly experienced and specialist tech talent that can deliver immediate results, particularly in the UI and UX space. Some organisations that previously outsourced these functions are looking at bringing them back in-house, too.

Rethinking Retail Recruitment Strategies

Tech specialists are in high demand and short supply across all industries. These individuals are firmly in the driving seat, and often have multiple lucrative job offers on the table at any one time. What’s more, employers are currently faced with record low unemployment and record high employment levels, making the fight for talent all the more daunting. As a result, retailers are having to think carefully about their recruitment strategy, to ensure they can secure and retain the best.

Many retailers have strong and highly recognisable brands. This means they have been fortunate to have received lots of interest on their website and in-store when job vacancies have arisen. But recruiting for tech talent is different. Retailers must be much more proactive in their marketing of these opportunities, and actively seek out the specific individuals they need. They also need to think more strategically about their recruitment technology and move away from the manual processes they have relied on in the past. Introducing an effective Applicant Tracking System or CRM can make recruitment more efficient and provide more control and visibility over the workforce strategy.

In pursuit of specialist tech talent, some retail organisations are changing their workforce mix and opting to recruit higher numbers of contractors than they did in the past. Where there are headcount freezes in back office functions, contractors can step in and fill immediate project requirements that fuel the digital transformation. They give organisations increased agility during times of uncertainty.

Another option that some retailers are considering are Employed Consultants. These are highly skilled specialists who are permanently employed by a recruitment partner like ManpowerGroup, and then deployed on assignments with client organisations. The model means companies can deploy a semi-permanent workforce, without the associated recruitment costs and headcount restrictions.

Nonetheless, while contractors, Employed Consultants and even statements of work may offer retailers the agility they require during times of uncertainty, it’s important that organisations continually audit their contingent workforce and plan the best way of engaging with non-permanent resources. This will become increasingly critical when IR35 is rolled out into the private sector next April.

Aligning The Business and Workforce Strategy

It’s clear that retailers are operating in a challenging market. But there are reasons to be optimistic and there are many opportunities to be harnessed – to transform operations, embrace change, and revitalise go-to-market strategies in order to secure long-term growth.

Nonetheless, when the business outlook changes, so too must the workforce strategy. As skill requirements evolve, more people will be needed in some areas of the business, while headcount will be reduced in others. Creating an effective workforce strategy that’s aligned to the needs of business is critical. This is where ManpowerGroup can help. We’ve partnered with some of Britain’s best-known retail names, delivering intelligence-led talent strategies that allow them to transform in a fast-changing world of work. We help them stay ahead of the curve in securing the best resource, regardless of the engagement channel or length of requirement.

Our national reach, centralised model, and high-tech high-touch approach means we can help retailers ramp their workforce numbers up and down, in line with business requirements like the festive peak. We’re also well equipped to help organisations engage with different workforce models, taking a short and long-term view of their effectiveness in line with your organisational goals. If you’d like more information about how we can support your recruitment requirements, please don’t hesitate to contact us.