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Get fit for fashion's digital future

From the prevalence of social media to the demand for analytic skills the fashion industry needs to prepare for a digital future

The rise of digital commerce is causing a skills gap in the fashion industry, and knowledge of IT and analytics is in highest demand, a new report reveals.

The Fast Forward Fashion: Skills for the Future, compiled by the Fashion Retail Academy and strategy consultancy OC&C, found retailers will need to recruit between 50,000 and 60,000 new central employees over the next five years to cope with rising demands from customers, and all new staff will require technology skills.



Social media is listed as one of the most impactful trends in retail over the next five to 10 years: 28% of retailers say it will “significantly” change their business model. Its importance is only set to rise as 58% of 18-to-24-year-olds have bought clothing after seeing an item on social media.

To adapt to the shifting retail market retailers need to develop acute customer insight through data collection; innovate by channel, customer segment and market to maintain customer interest; drive engagement through content; automate where possible; and increase the pace of operation in the supply chain.

The report found that retailers, educational institutions and the government all have a role to play in upskilling the workforce to ensure it can cope with the changes. Retailers need to invest in “rigorous” training and development programmes, while universities and colleges need to ensure they provide courses that will fill the gaps in the industry. The report also urged the government to create a higher apprenticeship designed by retailers to address the growing skills gap.



Lee Lucas, principal at the Fashion Retail Academy, says: “As the fight for retail talent intensifies, the pool of skilled fashion retailers ready to work in the 21st century is not set to increase. Technical, merchandising, digital and analytical roles, which are expected to grow significantly, are already areas where retailers struggle to recruit. Graduates, and even GCSE and A-level students dreaming up their careers today simply do not know about the exciting roles that retail increasingly offers and requires.”

To try to address this, the academy is launching the “Retail Reimagined” industry-led careers campaign to increase awareness of the opportunities available and help retailers to find the talent they need.

Retailers themselves will need to identify any skills deficits, and invest in training and recruitment to ensure their businesses can compete and thrive in an omnichannel world.





The Fashion Retail Academy and OC&C produced the report to establish how the shift to digital will impact the fashion industry, looking at resources, risks to retailers, skill gaps and what solutions can be put in place. OC&C spoke to more than 50 of the UK’s leading retailers through a series of interviews and an online survey. Those approached included chief executives, HR directors, commercial directors and head of departments at retailers including Asos, Boohoo, Burberry, Debenhams, Jigsaw, Marks & Spencer, Primark, River Island and Zalando.

Key findings

  • Trends that will affect retail: 87% rise of social media, 87% customer convenience, 83% competitor’s agility, 79% rise of online
  • Growth in central office roles: analytics up 6,000-8,000; digital up 3,000-5,000; merchandising up 2,000-3,000; buying up 2,000-3,000; supply chain management up 1,000-2,000
  • Skills that will grow in importance over the next five years: social media up 28%; analysis up 28%; online marketing up 25%; developers up 27%; ecommerce up 17%; customer services up 15%; operations up 13%
  • Skill shortage: 57% struggle to find technical/IT skills; 48% struggle to find analytical skills; 35% struggle to find business economic skills; 32% struggle to find creative skills; 30% struggle to find communication skills
  • 50,000-60,000 new central employees will need to be recruited by retailers over the next five years
  • 20% of fashion and footwear stores to close by 2020
  • 78% retailers provide training for staff
  • 27% retailers train new starters in IT and technical skills 

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