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3 Ways to Handle Retail Labor Shortage

  • 4 Min Read

Nearly half of retail employees are thinking about quitting in the next three to six months. Learn how you can use upskilling to keep them.


“The workforce is as important as the customer.”

That was one of Deloitte’s five key takeaways for retailers in its recent retail outlook report, outlining the necessity of businesses investing in their people. More than three-quarters of business leaders who responded to the survey said they thought it would be challenging to retain their best employees.

A recent report from McKinsey supports that worry in the U.S. According to their survey, nearly half of retail employees are considering leaving their jobs in the next three to six months. The second most common reason: a lack of career development, which was cited by 32% of people who were planning on leaving.

Many retail employees want to leave because they see limited career growth opportunities or mobility, and they don’t think their employers emphasize upskilling enough. In this blog, we’ll go over three ways that learning and development leaders can leverage upskilling to overcome retail labor shortages.

1. Prepare Employees for a Digital Future

We live in a world of digital transformation and that goes for the retail industry, too. Employees have already seen their careers overlap with technology: Whether it’s mobile devices that track stock or self-checkout solutions, automation has already helped make these roles more efficient both in terms of time and cost.

Some of the world’s largest retailers are betting on technology. Walmart is pouring millions into improving automation in its warehouses, while global furniture retailer IKEA has added kiosks to some of its stores that customers can use to browse the IKEA website—right within the store.

These technological changes make for more seamless customer experiences and more efficient working environments, but they also require employees who can implement and comfortably use these technologies. There are already pretty significant gaps in technology jobs, though. According to a 2021 report by Gartner, information technology executives saw a lack of talent as “the most significant adoption barrier” for almost two-thirds of emerging technologies.

So what are retailers to do? Rather than trying to find new workers with the crucial skills, businesses can offer upskilling opportunities to staff instead. A 2021 report by Lightcast noted that retail careers already share plenty of skill overlaps with those in technology. That’s especially the case for management, leadership and communication skills, the report found.

Giving retail employees the chance to foster those abilities while also learning the technical skills needed to thrive as retail becomes more digital can help leaders shore up talent gaps as they prepare for the future.

2. Enable Corporate Employees to Grow

Retention is key for the future of the retail workforce. The same Deloitte report found that more than three-quarters of retailers believed it would be a challenge to retain their top talent, while a recent Gartner study found that the U.S. turnover rate could jump 20% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

One effective way of retaining employees: giving them the opportunity to grow in their work. A McKinsey report found that almost a third of retail employees who are considering leaving their jobs in the next six months cite a lack of career development as the main reason. And beyond a shortage of talent, hiring a new employee is expensive—between $4,000 and $17,000 expensive.

So give employees a reason to stay. Providing your employees with professional development (PD) opportunities can be the difference between their joining your competitor and their staying and growing with your company.

3. Embrace a Lifelong Learning Culture

It goes further than providing the opportunities, though: You need to ensure employees are making use of them. There’s a significant gap between the employees who want to take advantage of learning and those who do. In our whitepaper Enabling Upskilling at Scale, we found that around three-quarters of North American workers want to participate in external PD. That’s compared to around 15% who actually do it.

There are several reasons why this gap exists:

  • Financial: Many employers will reimburse tuition fees rather than subsidize them at the start, leaving the employees to front the costs. Some employers will even wait for employees to complete a course before they reimburse them, leaving the employees on the hook for months.
  • Time: Some employees don’t feel like they have the time to engage in learning, especially when work gets busy. Balancing life, work and home responsibilities can feel daunting when considering whether to add another item to the equation, especially for working professionals who have been out of school for some time.
  • Support: With time compromises come ability compromises. Many people are worried that they may not have the right support system in place, either at work or home, to handle particularly busy times during their course, like final assignments or exams. Not only do these activities demand more time, but they can also add a level of stress.

Enable your people to take courses. Cover their costs up front (or work with a platform that does this for you). Help them devise a learning plan that works for them. Offer them some work time to focus on PD. Reassure them that they have the space to refocus their energy when they need to. Be understanding.

Professional development leads to more engaged and productive employees who are more likely to stay with your company. The short-term investment in money, time and support will pay dividends later. Building a lifelong learning culture at your workplace will keep employees engaged, inspired and learning, which benefits both them and your organization.

Create a Culture Where Employees Flourish

Employees want an environment in which they can grow. Why not provide opportunities for them to do so through professional development?

Check out some examples of pathways that retail employees can unlock using upskilling.

Written by:

Chase Banger
Chase Banger

Chase Banger is a Content Marketing Specialist at D2L. An award-winning journalist and former communications specialist, he has a passion for helping people through education.

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Table of Contents
  1. 1. Prepare Employees for a Digital Future
  2. 2. Enable Corporate Employees to Grow
  3. 3. Embrace a Lifelong Learning Culture
  4. Create a Culture Where Employees Flourish