As the Australian retail industry grapples with a severe skills shortage, businesses of all sizes are searching for a solution. As it stands, four in five retailers are struggling to fill vacant roles with experienced candidates, leading to major challenges both financially and operationally.

The solution to this problem may be right in front of us. A recent whitepaper released by workforce compliance automation platform WorkPro has revealed the abundance of transferable skills that remain underutilised across Australia. 

The findings – derived from a survey of over 2,400 job-seekers – suggest that rethinking traditional recruitment norms and focusing on skills rather than industry experience could be the key to addressing the retail skills shortage.

A wealth of untapped potential

By turning to candidates with transferable skills, businesses can find a pool of talent primed and ready to solve the myriad of issues caused by the talent shortage. WorkPro’s whitepaper reveals that 62.4% of respondents expressed openness to job offers in new industries if their skills were transferable, while 60.7% of participants reported being offered positions in new industries based on the merit of their transferable skills. It also discovered that despite 67.3% of respondents considering their educational background relevant to their job, 32.7% did not share this sentiment. 

These findings are significant for many reasons. Firstly, it underscores the growing importance of skills that can be transferred across industries. This suggests that it would be beneficial for retail companies to value practical experience rather than formal education and industry-specific training. It also indicates that recruiters are becoming increasingly more comfortable with hiring based on transferable skills, a significant paradigm shift from previous trends where direct experience and hard skills were preferred.

Unlocking the benefits of transferable skills

Leveraging the skills of the existing workforce can not only alleviate the burden of skills shortages but can also offer a host of other benefits for retail businesses. Hiring based on transferable skills gives workplaces the chance to diversify their staff, creating opportunities for fresh perspectives that breed innovation. For many businesses, hiring in this way can reveal highly valuable skills that may have previously been considered unnecessary for a role.

This approach can also help to improve yet another problem that industries of all kinds continue to face: employee retention. Businesses that hire based strictly on industry experience can limit the professional mobility of their existing staff. This often means that staff need to find employment elsewhere in order to reach their goals and feel fulfilled in their roles. When you hire based on a transferable skillset, however, you open endless opportunities for your employees to thrive within your company. By providing opportunities for promotion and growth, you can lower your staff turnover, decrease training costs, and, most importantly, keep great employees working in your organisation.

Revolutionising the hiring process

With so many candidates ready to use their skills in new roles, it’s up to the retail industry to change the way we look at the hiring process. If you’re finding it difficult to hire candidates who meet the strict criteria for certain roles, it’s worth asking yourself a few questions: How many of these industry-specific skills can easily be taught on the job? What does it take to succeed in this role? What skills and values do I want in a long-term employee? What other industries or jobs would nurture skills similar to these?

The answers to these questions will help to put you on the right track towards hiring employees who truly meet the needs of your business. On a practical level, it will allow you to identify crucial skills that you can then assess in the hiring process. By focusing on skills and providing tailored assessments that evaluate competencies rather than industry experience, you can tap into a broader pool of talent.

Placing transferable skills at the forefront of hiring criteria offers an exciting opportunity for the retail industry to tackle its current skill shortage head-on. With the WorkPro whitepaper showing that employees of all ages and industry backgrounds are open to using their skills in a new industry, there has never been a better time to reap the benefits of a more skills-centric recruitment strategy.

Tania Evans is founder and CEO at WorkPro.