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Recruitment Roundtable 2015

From IT developers and user experience managers to merchandisers and warehouse staff, fashion retailers are on the lookout for fresh talent.

Finding the right candidate for the job is an art. In the multichannel world, where competition for skills is fierce, retailers are under increasing pressure to find innovative ways to source talent nationwide.

In association with value retailer Matalan, Drapers’ Next Generation roundtable invited HR specialists from the likes of Jack Wills, Reiss and TJX Europe to discuss how they are unearthing fresh talent. Held at the Covent Garden Hotel on November 13, the event focused on the skills
gaps retailers need to fill to run an effective multichannel business.

While none of the retailers are struggling to fill technical design roles, a lack of merchandising talent is a source of concern. Young merchandisers are job-hopping too quickly or switching into buying, said Laura Wintle, talent acquisition manager at young fashion retailer Jack Wills. “The lack of available people means merchandising salaries have risen to £28,000 for graduates with one year’s experience. Candidates don’t necessarily need a merchandising qualification. We are looking at training economics and maths graduates, but then it’s about convincing them to work in fashion.”

Matalan recruits its merchandising trainees from a number of backgrounds including finance - experience which lends itself to planning stock levels, analysing performance and deciding how many of each line to buy.

The retailer’s HR manager Laura Oxton believes it is important to give graduate trainees a better understanding of end-to-end merchandising, so they stay longer in the job and don’t move into other areas of fashion before fully understanding the role.

The head of HR at premium chain Reiss, Luke East, agreed the objective is to get candidates thinking about merchandising as a credible career early on: “There is less competition than in buying, so why not start in merchandising and see where things go?”

In the next financial year, Jack Wills will be on the lookout for an ecommerce merchandiser to grow the online side of the business, confirmed Wintle, who thinks a candidate from a trading background might be a perfect fit because of their ability to work with figures. is hoping to overcome the skills GAP by launching a merchandising graduate scheme next year. The fast-growing Manchester-based young fashion etailer also plans to grow its Warehouse staff from 300 to 1,000 over the next three years, following a £10m investment to expand its warehouse in Burnley.

In 2015 Matalan will also extend its warehouse to 600,000 sq ft and relocate eight miles to Knowsley in Merseyside, next door to its head office. To help retain the workforce the company is putting on buses for the employees who would previously have walked to work.

Faced with strong competition from rivals, it is crucial retailers set themselves apart by having a strong online careers page and looking at new ways to grab candidates’ attention, such as integrating video with testimonials from employees explaining what it’s like to work at the company, in the style of Shop Direct, FitFlop and Superdry. General opinion at the roundtable was that posts on a company’s general Facebook page can look dull or become diluted by the sheer volume of information.

Oxton believes businesses must think beyond Facebook and LinkedIn, and communicate with potential employees through fresh channels, such as using fast-paced video to tell the brand story.

Boohoo is exploring unusual recruitment routes to attract new talent, such as running meet-up sessions for developers and coders at its headquarters or connecting with tech specialists via online communities like Stack Overflow and Open Web.

Looking at recruitment from a candidate’s perspective, the advice for young professionals is to do your research. “If you’re looking for structure and relentless progression you would be better going to a big brand,” said Wintle. “If you want more exposure and to learn at a quicker pace a small business is for you.”

Reiss’s East suggested getting your hands dirty by doing as much work experience as possible. “I am looking for people who have shown initiative and drive. You need to get out there.”

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