Retail businesses have long favoured part-time staff when it comes to distribution centres or customer facing roles on the front line. This makes perfect sense for many reasons. In businesses with huge seasonal peaks and troughs, it is much easier to ask 100 part-time staff to each do a couple of hours of overtime than it is to ask 50 full-timers to work an extra four hours and eat into what little leisure time they have left. 

But with generational lows in the unemployment rate - the latest ONS labour market statistics estimated the UK unemployment rate to be at its lowest level in almost 45 years, at 3.8% - how do retailers find these talented part-time workers? Where are they all?

There are 32.75 million people in work in the UK, of which only 8.6 million (or 26% of them) are working part-time. Given that up to 70% of a physical retailer’s front line workforce can be made up of part-time workers, this presents a particularly tough challenge - having to recruit the bulk of your workforce, from a small pool of only 8.6 million people across the country. With ever-squeezed talent attraction budgets, it means that recruitment efforts and strategies need to be squarely focused on where they can have the biggest impact.

At Rest Less we carried out some bespoke analysis of ONS labour market statistics from January to March 2019 to see where today’s part-time workers can be found - the results might surprise you:

● 74% of all part-time workers in the UK are female (6.3 million)
● Only 23% of all part-time workers in the UK are under the age of 30 (2 million)
● A staggering 40% are over the age of 50 (3.4 million)
● 19% are over the age of 60 (1.6 million)
● 28% of all part-time workers are women over the age of 50 (2.4 million)

Retail is an industry that has always placed the customer front and centre, priding itself on a great customer experience. All talk over the last decade has been about the transition to digital and online - and rightly so, given its rapid rise and both the opportunity and disruption it brings.

However, whilst corporate strategy must be focussed on digital and the future, it’s important not to ignore today’s customer interactions. In May 2019, the ONS estimated that despite its rapid growth, online retailing still only accounted for 19.3% of total retailing, implying that the vast majority of most customers retail experience today is still with another human. 

Best practice for delivering a great customer experience in the face-to-face environment is to reflect the make-up of local communities within your staff base. Over the years, this has prompted most employers to take huge steps forward and embed a diversity and inclusion strategy for gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual preference.

It’s perhaps worth noting then, that with ever increasing life expectancy, the average age of your customers is also increasing. With seismic demographic shifts on the horizon, we’re really pleased to see retailers starting to actively think about age diversity in the workforce too.

Stuart Lewis is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Rest Less, the digital community that helps those in their 50s, 60s and beyond find fulfilling opportunities to work, volunteer or find a new career path.



Rest Less is a Career Partner with Rethink Retail, a website powered by the BRC.  Rethink Retail is for those interested in retail careers, careers guidance professionals and retail members to learn more about the future of retail careers.  Find out more here.