You may have seen press coverage of the new report out from the British Retail Consortium that claims the retail industry will lose almost one million jobs by 2020.
The report, in essence highlights the fact that fundamental changes in the retail industry such as improved productivity and changes in the way people shop will see roles being made redundant, costs being cut and stores closing.
This sparked a furore in the press which jumped on the figures as the ‘death of UK retail’ and warning that poorer areas won’t be able to adapt to what many see as the future of the industry.
But is the situation really as bad as the headlines suggest? The answer is...no.
Sure, the figures are scary – after all, one million jobs is approximately one-third of the industry. However, the bigger picture painted by the report is that there will be fewer but better jobs and emphasises that the focus should be on managing the impact that this change will cause.
With 900,000 fewer jobs in the industry, those that remain will be more productive and higher earning.
This will mean improvements in the quality and variety of the offer to customers and up the skill level in an industry that famously suffers from a poor skills reputation.
It is true that areas that are already economically fragile are likely to see the greatest impact of store closures and some of the people affected by the changing roles will be those who may find it hardest to transition into the new jobs that are created.
The BRC is calling on the Government to mitigate this through overhauling the business rates system and greater employer participation in the apprenticeship levy including more say over how and where it is spent.
In his closing remarks in the report, chairman of the BRC and John Lewis Partnership, Sir Charlie Mayfield, said: “The report reaches some positive conclusions. Customers will get better choice, better value, more convenience and more personalisation. Retailing will be more productive, powered by better jobs that offer the chance to develop a wide array of skills and greater earnings. Not because of the National Living Wage, but because differentiation between competing retailers will depend on it.”
Sir Ian Cheshire, chairman of Debenhams, added: “There is no doubt the structure of the retail industry is changing fast and there will be fewer retail jobs in the future. Retailers will get on with the job in hand.
"But ensuring that proper account is taken of the potential impact of this change, particularly on different parts of the country and more vulnerable people in the workforce requires the Government and the industry to work together in a new way. We want the jobs that remain to be better jobs and the way in which the National Living Wage, the Apprenticeship levy and the vital reform of the business rates system are implemented is absolutely crucial”.