We know the current Covid-19 pandemic is having a transformative effect on the retail industry, and while the technological innovation and external financial pressures continue apace, the number of jobs in retail is falling. Retail jobs of the future will surely become more skilled and more productive and the retailers’ ability to upskill and retrain is critical to the future success of the industry.

Retail is a diverse industry and leading companies are already doing their part to boost social mobility. As we hosted the first in our series of roundtables focusing on Diversity & Inclusion with Social Mobility, we learnt that optimising HR policies and processes to increase the socio-economic diversity and inclusion of your workforce will be for the better of the industry. Those who have the longest journey often have the most to offer. Employees from lower socio-economic background on average outperform their more advantaged peers and individuals who start as an apprentice are more likely to stay long-term thus reducing recruitment costs.

So how can we ensure we continue to exploit opportunities?

Apprenticeships at all levels are important to the retail industry. As an industry that provides a significant number of jobs to individuals who experience high levels of economic exclusion, apprenticeships at Level 2 are particularly important. As the industry continues to transform and the skills requirement of retail jobs changes, apprenticeships provide a real opportunity to support existing employees to move into new roles within a retail organisation.

Investment in the skills of the workforce is a long-term commitment. Retailers are increasingly concerned about the future funding for the apprenticeship beyond 2020. This has been exacerbated by the Government’s admission that the system is under budgetary pressures. Future funding must be secured for all age apprenticeships across all levels to support in work progression, social mobility and to enable industries such as retail to transition to a higher skilled, more productive industry.

The recently launched National Skills Fund is an opportunity to think strategically about the future of skills funding. The retail industry recognises the importance of investment in skills and understands the need to continue contributing to a training levy. But the Government must look beyond apprenticeships to support industry to meet its skills needs.