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How Next is Dealing With the Retail Skills Shortage

Clare Hopping

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Just because Next is one of the biggest retailers in the country doesn't mean it has an easy job finding people to fill vacant roles

As one of the biggest High Street retailers around, with 597 stores in the UK and Ireland, Next knows the retail industry inside out.

In 2013, the company had almost 55,000 employees and ongoing recruitment to support headcount turnover across roles - from store management, to product merchandising, buying, e-commerce, and more. Like most retailers, however, it’s struggling to fill some particular roles.

Seth Davies, senior HR officer at Next Group says that a big, ever present challenge is recruiting within the product merchandising sector. He explains that merchandising is an important job in any successful retail business, but it’s often a misunderstood subject.

“You can come from a lot of backgrounds to do this role, which obviously opens up more choice in other professions too. The competition increases but so does our tenacity to find the best candidates for merchandising through our close links with partnered universities, promoting the profession to a wider audience as well as the more traditional methods of graduate engagement.”

Davies goes on to explain that the future challenges lie within the e-commerce space.

“There is already a skills shortage within certain new areas like user experience and e-commerce development. We need to ask ourselves, how do we attract the IT crowd away from the usual routes to have a long and successful career with a fast-paced retailer? How do we train for potential roles that don’t even exist yet? That’s the next challenge.”

Added to skills shortages, the cost of living is increasing and wages are only just catching up with inflation for the first time in six years, making it harder for graduates to pursue a career in the South East or London, where the majority of the High Street head offices are located.

Next does offer a relocation scheme that can help ease some of the pressure for those struggling to make ends meet, making it an attractive option for those wanting to start out in the retail industry. Additionally, with its head office in Leicestershire rather than London, graduates don’t have to make the jump straight to the city when they finish university.

The next challenge is to screen the candidates who are willing to make the move and have the skills required for a role. Davies says that having the right selection tools can increase the company’s chances of getting the right candidate.

Next is using LaunchPad Recruits to screen applicants for graduate, entry-level roles within its buying and merchandising trainee scheme. The trial was so effective that the company has now extended the partnership across other parts of its business too.

Davies says the goalposts have moved in terms of graduate recruitment. He explains it’s not just about promoting to graduates anymore-you need to get into the schools and look to engage with GCSE years to promote the benefits of working in retail. A good recruiter will know the strengths of their business and look to promote these in a way that really captures the imagination for whatever role it is the graduate may be applying for.

“With the current roles, the candidates are tech-savvy, and through university, career guidance is educating them to expect that video interviewing will become the norm. The popular selfie, Snapchat and Vine trends show that there’s an ever-growing place for this approach,” Davies says.

“With the added benefit of integrating with our applicant tracking systems (ATS), there’s a seamless link in the recruitment process. Recruiters know speed is always of the essence, and this is especially true with high volume.”

Davies says Next recruiters can screen applications in a more effective way because the ability to distribute videos to assessors is easy. The capability to assess candidates wherever there’s an internet connection helps when time and resources are at a premium.

“Video interviewing helps companies get a feel for the person, whether they fit in, and the person can showcase their talents which you can’t always get from a CV and cover letter,” he says.

Clare Hopping

Clare Hopping has been involved in the recruitment of both full-time employees and freelance staff for ten years. She specialises in recruiting staff via social media and digital platforms.