Editor's note: The following is a guest post by Evan Armstrong, vice president of government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Opinions are his own.
While headlines proclaim the robot takeover is upon us, America’s retailers know different. The retail industry is dependent upon the interaction of people — our workforce and the customers we serve each day. In a fast-changing retail landscape, America’s most recognized brands are using a savvy combination of technology and increasingly skilled labor to ensure consumers get the goods they want, when they need them.
Retail is the largest private sector employer supporting more than 42 million American jobs throughout the supply chain. For many individuals, retail is a first opportunity in the workforce, a second chance or a third act. A place to earn a first paycheck and an opportunity to learn life skills that aren’t always taught in a classroom.
Many who go on to college or careers in other fields take something valuable from that first opportunity to learn and earn a paycheck. For others, retail is a convenient part-time opportunity that provides unique flexibility and work-life balance. For seniors, students, parents and many more, retail is an opportunity to work around classes, around children, grandchildren and around schedules that require something different than a 9-5 job. In short, retail offers individuals the ability to fit a job into around their lives rather than fitting their lives around a job.
What is changing is the 21st century economy and the evolving wants of our customers and our workforce. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows there are over 700,000 retail job openings alone.
As competition within the service sector is becoming more fierce and the surging gig economy is quickly becoming a mainstay in the American workforce, attracting and retaining talent is an ongoing challenge. A recent RILA survey revealed that retailers are actively looking to fill jobs in logistics and transportation roles, and in distribution centers.
To stay ahead of the curve, RILA members are making significant investments in their workforce in terms of wages, and benefits. Most importantly, our members are making career development and training a priority.
Retailers know that in order to recruit employees at all skill levels they must prioritize training and upskilling to retain a competitive and thriving workforce. Employees want to grow and thrive — fortunately, the opportunities that retailers provide to all levels of employees is growing. The same RILA survey showed that 100% of respondents offer career development programs including mentorships, online training, and tuition reimbursement.
Providing opportunity for advancement is not just a talking point, rather it is a way of life for our member companies. America’s retailers offer countless pathways for all levels and all types of employees, but are most proud of their roles as the first step in the ladder of success for those who are seeking personal and career growth.
Thousands of great careers in management, finance, logistics, merchandising, marketing, loss prevention and many other fields began with a first job pushing carts, stocking shelves or working a register. For this reason, our members are investing substantially in entry level associates, e-commerce and tech professionals and logistics workers. As new technology comes online, retailers are using innovation to attract talent and enhance the human experience, not replace it.
To highlight retail’s investments in career and educational development programs, RILA is launching its #MoreThanAStore campaign. We plan to share the stories of advancement and career development opportunities from some of America’s leading retailers. Investing in people and fostering workforce development is a top priority.
In a time when there are more job openings than job seekers, retail will continue to invest in its people, giving our workers the chance to earn and learn while delivering the best products and experience for our customers.