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With the recession now firmly in the rear view mirror, many consumers are getting back to spending. Good news for retailers. But unfortunately life is never that simple is it?  Retailers face another looming challenge. The problem is no longer about lack of customers or sluggish sales, but rather a rapidly changing talent pool. The workplace of the (very near) future will be the most diverse the world has ever seen. In just five years’ time, multiple generations working together will have disparate skill sets, diverse expectations and different motivations for working – and a huge proportion of the retail workforce will be seasonal or intermittent employees. In other words, a bit like herding kittens.

According to new global research by Oxford Economics, Workforce 2020, 82% of retail companies are increasingly using contingent, freelance or consultant employees (click to tweet), with almost half citing the need for increased investment in training. 

And as if that’s not enough, it’s a double problem for retailers, hitting them at both ends from entry level employees to top end management. At one end of the spectrum, companies and workers are unprepared for the growing need for technology skills, and almost half of retailers have difficulty recruiting employees with even base-level skills. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the leadership cliff. The Oxford Economics research found that just 36% of retail executives have plans in place for succession and continuity (click to tweet). 41% say their growth plans are hindered by lack of access to the right leaders (click to tweet). And a mere 32% of executives say their leaders are prepared to lead a diverse workforce (click to tweet).

When you read these sorts of statistics, it’s plain to see both the widening talent gap and the obvious lag in understanding of the critical workplace dynamics that are taking place across the retail industry. The good news is that it’s a gap that can be bridged. Better training and education opportunities would significantly benefit both employees and businesses alike. Whilst the need for skills, such as analytics and cloud will grow, the Oxford Economics research shows that 46% of employees expect to be proficient in analytics in three years’ time (click to tweet) and 20% expect to be proficient in cloud by then (click to tweet).

The magnitude of the seismic shifts I’ve just described requires a complete rethink on core areas such as compensation, training and HR technology. Managing multi-generational, part time and full time talent, cultivating leadership at the right levels with the right skills, encouraging learning and taking the time to understand employee requirements requires retailers to make HR a priority within their organisations. If left unchecked, these challenges could trigger increased attrition at a time when the right talent and skills will be a competitive advantage.  As retailers face the major disruptive workforce changes ahead, it’s never been more important to make HR a priority.

It’ll be interesting to hear what you think. Have you started on this HR technology journey? Post a comment or tweet me at @joergkoesters.

You can also download the Oxford Economics research I mentioned in full here.

Listen to Oxford Economics and some of our key retail customers and partners discuss what these facts mean to the future of their organizations here.


Joerg Koesters is a Technology Marketing Executive with passion for Retail and Consumer industries, and a retail ambassador for SAP.

Interested in your feedback. You can also get in touch at @joergkoesters on Twitter.

Join us at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach, Florida October 21st – 23rd for SAP Retail Forum 2015 – Simplify to Innovate.  Learn more here.

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