With tales of doom and gloom for the sector persisting, it can be easy to feel nervous about retail’s future prospects. Obsessions over online competition, financials and growing costs are dominating the headlines. In some senses, they may be justified; in others, maybe not. Yet, an often-overlooked indicator should be cause for optimism, and points to the sustained vitality and importance of retail: employment.
Looking at the latest figures from the Department of Jobs and Small Business, retail is holding up extremely well. Over the last five years, total employment in the retail industry has grown by 43,600 people. This represents a 3.6% growth rate across the 2013-2018 period, with 1.27 million Australians now employed in a retail job.
Those numbers highlight the incredibly important contribution that retail makes to the economy. Retail is Australia’s largest private sector employer and ranks second only to the healthcare industry in overall employment. Retailers should rightly be proud of the opportunities and benefits they provide to so many Australians through a job in a store, distribution centre or head office around the country.
Retail provides innumerate Australians the opportunity to enter the workforce for the first time. A part-time job after school or on weekends is where many of us begin our working lives. So too, does a job in retail help us support ourselves throughout our studies, or offer opportunities to re-enter the workforce at a later stage. All the while, retail employment supports the development of important skills, including a disciplined work ethic, relationship skills, business operations and so much more.
However, this often leads to perceptions of a job in retail as a merely transient stepping stone, or a stopgap between jobs in other industries. We need to counter these perceptions and move away from the idea that retail is not a ‘real job’. One of the Australian Retailers Association’s (ARA) key focuses for 2019 is to do just that. We want to promote retail as a career and foster the notion that the industry can provide a vibrant, fulfilling and lifelong occupation. We are starting off by doing this through two key campaigns in 2019. Two of the most important aspects of retail employment are central to achieving this goal: women in retail, and skills.
Retail employment is a key driver for women’s workforce participation. The Department of Jobs and Small Business notes that 55.4% of employees in retail are women. This is something retailers should be proud of, as employment is crucial for individual economic participation and empowerment. Despite this, we must not rest on our laurels. These figures should be celebrated, but also tempered with the reality that the challenges facing women in other industries – achievement, recognition, career progression, leadership, among others – are faced by female retailers too. We can do much more to promote the status of women in our own industry. It begins by sparking the conversation; that’s why the ARA’s Women in Retail campaign will be a top focus for 2019.
An inextricable link between this challenge and the promotion of retail as a career will be skills development. The ARA is passionate about developing the important pathways towards success and leadership in the industry. We see these skills as central to the success of women in retail – and all retail employees for that matter – in forging long term careers in the industry. One of the ARA’s first major pieces of work in this vein for 2019 will be the Government’s Independent Review into Vocational Education and Training. The ARA and the ARA Retail Institute will be advocating for retailers and employees of all kinds when responding to this review.
The size of these tasks for 2019 may be grandiose, yet the ARA is undaunted. This is because we are motivated by the importance of the industry, and the success of our members, every time we tackle the important issues. Retail employment, women in retail and skills development are three of those. 2019 is already shaping up to be a career year!
Josh is the Policy and Regulatory Advisor for the Australian Retailers Association and has a passion for advocating on issues related to the retail industry. To get involved in the ARA’s Policy and Advocacy campaigns, or to register your interest in the ARA’s policy committees, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.