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Talent Management

How the Apprenticeship Levy Will Benefit Retailers

Richard Alberg

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For UK retailers, the Apprenticeship Levy represents an opportunity to recruit and retain multi-talented employees.

On April 6, the highly anticipated Apprenticeship Levy will come into effect. After much controversy, UK employers with an annual payroll of more than £3 million will be required to put 0.5% of the total towards apprenticeship training and development. Each employer will then be able to spend their levy contributions on their own apprenticeship programmes.

For the retail sector — and its workforce of over 3 million — that equates to a massive £235 million in annual contributions. But in an industry that does not traditionally require certifiable skills, the necessity to train people to meet a government imposed standard raises important questions: How will retail roles evolve to make use of multiple, high-level skillsets? Will the number of available jobs decrease due to a higher investment per employee?

These questions don’t yet have clear answers, but British retailers must make a concerted effort in the here and now to shed the status quo when it comes to hiring practices. If they do, what some might currently see as a burden could in fact drive positive hiring outcomes in the near future.

Expanding Skillsets

The fashion industry alone contributes £28 billion to Britain’s domestic economy and supports nearly 900,000 jobs, with retail sales playing a crucial role in the sector’s success. That’s because, even in the age of e-commerce and chatbots, in-store customer service remains a key element of the shopping experience.

The Apprenticeship Levy does not mark the impending demise of low-skill roles such as cashiers and shelf-stackers. Rather than eliminate those positions altogether or accelerate the trend towards automation, it’s more likely that retailers will provide each shop floor employee with a greater number of responsibilities, from more in-depth customer service training to increased product knowledge to the implementation of the latest in-store technology.

As a result, retailers will more easily cultivate an omnichannel customer experience, with brand values consistent not only across all digital properties and social media platforms, but inside each brick-and-mortar location as well.

In turn, as traditional cashier and shelf-stacker roles evolve to include more high-level training, retail jobs stand to become more attractive to high-calibre school leavers looking for work. The promise of a clear-cut career progression will encourage improved retention rates and increased employee loyalty.

Leveling the International Playing Field

The Apprenticeship Levy should facilitate significant improvements across the UK’s retail sector, the improvements will at last position us as a true competitor alongside mainland European rivals. Countries like Germany, with the most sought-after retail market in the world, have long held employees to a higher standard of training and as a result have received greater interest from foreign investors. As American retailers continue to invest abroad and consumer confidence returns to previous highs in many European markets, the levy comes at a time of unprecedented opportunity for domestic job growth and increased capital.

Seizing that opportunity starts with the shop floor staff who have long been the face of retail brands everywhere. Regimented and expanded training programs offer employers the opportunity to ensure consumer-facing employees are fully aligned with the values that define their company.

But before the training can even begin, British retailers must ensure they find right-fit candidates for increasingly complex, multi-skilled roles. Traditional hiring practices simply won’t cut it, as the rules of the game have clearly changed. Recruiters should look to automated screening tools and live video interviewing software to get a fuller picture of each applicant’s capabilities.

Retail has long been a vital component of the British economy, but it will only remain so if the industry’s major players make a clear effort to improve and expand the capabilities of its workforce. Apprenticeships created by the levy promise to offer flexible eligibility criteria, a range of qualifications, and a clear career path to more senior roles. Now it’s up to the retailers to ensure they don’t miss this golden opportunity.

Richard Alberg

Richard Alberg is the CTO of Corndel