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Retail’s digital skills gap set to widen

UKCES report suggests retail sector could face a skills shortage.

By Alexander Sword

The retail sector needs to fill its digital skills gap to adapt to the changing landscape, according to a report from UKCES.

18 percent of retail establishments reported skills gaps in the report, with UKCES attributing the lack of skills to image problems and a lack of clear progression routes.

A fifth of retailers recognised new technology as a cause of skills gaps, but predicted this to rise over time due to the pace of advances, the changing skills profiles of entrants and an aging workforce.

The report claims that retail, as well as financial services, ICT, professional services, and transportation and storage make up 40 percent of the UK economy but 65 percent of the productivity shortfall.

However, there was evidence that retailers were trying to address this. 60 percent of retailers offer some form of training and approximately half of retail employers that provide training focus on the use of new technology.

"If employers want someone to build algorithms this will not be a retail graduate but a computer engineer graduate – but they will then not have the retail management skills," one stakeholder commented.

"We need to educate employers about the skills they actually want and map this to a graduate profile. Retailers are not targeting the right people."

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The news comes as online shopping’s share of retail sales has increased from 11 percent to 12 percent in the year to May 2015.

Dr Vicki Belt, Assistant Director at UKCES, said: "The wholesale and retail sector is the largest sector in the UK economy by employment, but sector productivity is relatively low.

"There is scope to improve productivity by making full use of existing talent and ensuring that workers have the opportunity to build their skills and experience, and progress within the sector."

The research interviewed 17 employers and ten sector stakeholder organisations in the UK from a range of companies of different sizes and specialisms.

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