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Digital skills key to boosting productivity, finds report

Retailers need to do more to attract workers with digital skills in order to boost productivity, according to a new report from the government’s skills agency.

A career in retail must be presented as an attractive and promising choice that offers younger workers the opportunity to use and develop technology-based skills and knowledge, said the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

The report, called Sector insights: skills and performance challenges in the retail sector, also identified the need to help older workers improve their IT skills to keep pace with changes in the sector.

It said recruiting people with technical skills and upskilling the existing workforce will help the sector adapt to online retailing. In 2014 online sales represented 11% of all retail spending; this had increased by one percentage point by May 2015.

UKCES predicts the sector will need to recruit over 2 million people by 2022 to fill new jobs, as well as replace workers leaving the sector.

There will also be an increase in the demand for workers qualified at Qualifications and Credit Framework levels 4-6 or Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework levels 8-12, alongside a growth in the number of associate professionals and technical roles.

The wholesale and retail industry was identified as one of five sectors in the UK with a “productivity shortfall” in the government’s recent productivity plan called Fixing the Foundations. Nearly one in five retailers reported skills gaps.

Employers need to review their methods of diagnosing skills gaps and better match these with suitable training programmes, UKCES argued.

It said retail needs to improve its image, develop clear career paths and promote opportunities to use digital-based skills to undergraduates and graduates.

“The wholesale and retail sector is the largest sector in the UK economy by employment, but sector productivity is relatively low,” said Dr Vicki Belt, assistant director at UKCES. “There is scope to improve productivity by making full use of existing talent and ensuring that workers have the opportunity to build their skills and experience, and progress within the sector.”


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