On Tuesday March 10th we hosted BRC Learning Live, a deep dive into the future of the retail workforce, and the way that it is being shaped by increasing automation or digitisation.

We were joined by HR Leaders including Peter Collyer from Ted Baker, Carin Hammer-Blakebrough from IKEA, Oliver Wren from Retail Choice, Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the BRC, and Chris Field who brought over a decade of retail journalism to the panel.

The event opened with a discussion around future skills in the industry, with each panelist giving their perspective on where things were heading, and a common theme seemed to be the balance needing to be struck between digital and the human experience.

Oliver pointed out that the vast majority of people still enjoy the process of the in store experience. Engaged, well trained staff are still a valuable asset to retail businesses, but have to evolve in the right way.

Peter, who before working at Ted Baker also worked for companies like ASOS and Disney, noted how some areas of retail have lost sight of the customer relationship. Getting close to the consumer, improving your understanding of what they are looking for, and then developing a customer journey that compliments that was critical. Customer expectations are changing, and Peter pointed out that retailers need to make sure we stay close to them and make sure we are changing along side them.

Carim, talking about the future roles and skills in the industry, said that IKEA is in the process of transforming itself, looking at bringing in new skills and roles which is heavily invested in digital talent and insights roles. However the important element of this development is the realization that the human element is just as important, and therefore developing IKEA’s internal culture (such as value based recruiting) alongside this digital development is crucial.

Helen focused on three key elements that she see’s have changed in her decades long experience in retail: Firstly, the shift in customer behaviors has meant that customers are now in charge of the direction in the market, and so the skills gap needs to address that those customers are focused more on digital. Developing on that point, the jobs previously that may have had no digital component to them need to be addressed and upskilled immediately to address this evolution. This means that retail needs to focus on recruiting roles like data scientists, but also training for basic digital skills that are needed for people at all ends of the retail workforce. The third point was about the roles of leaders in the industry, and the traditional ideas about retail strategy, with five year plans and the like is in the past. Instead retail needs to be looking to how we can bring more agility into our leadership and therefore the industry.

And that was all just in the first 20 minutes of the discussion!

It was an great evening of in-depth discussion, and we hope that everyone who attended got fantastic value from the evening and made excellent new industry connections.

We would like to say a big thank you to our event partner RetailChoice. To find out more about their work, including how they can make your retail hiring process easier, click here. Also a big thank you to Oliver Wren, Peter Collyer, Helen Dickinson, and Carin Hammer-Blakebrough for their fantastic contributions to our panel discussion. Finally we would like to thank our media partner Fieldworks, and Chris Field for chairing the panel discussion.

Keep an eye out for highlights of the evening coming soon.