The retail industry continues to evolve to meet the headwinds of global change ranging from slowing economic growth, to supply chain disruption, changing regulations, and beyond. In addition to these business-critical focus areas, top-of-mind for many retailers is how to find effective ways to attract and retain talent in a fiercely competitive job market.

The Australian Retailers Association suggests the “scale of the labour shortage crisis is crippling” given the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ figures showing 40,300 job vacancies in retail trade in May 2022 – an increase of 38.5% compared to February last year.

Retail sales, meanwhile, increased 10% year-over-year in May, putting further strain on businesses and workers. While there isn’t an easy solution to win the race for talent, retailers that focus on talent-first strategies to acquire, train, reskill, and retain employees will gain a competitive edge.

Tips to help implement talent-first strategies include:

Optimise acquisition efforts

Many retailers are competing for the same talent pool. With more positions than candidates, chances are that if you think highly of an applicant, another company will too. If you have a long recruiting process, it is likely that candidate will get snatched up by another prospective employer quickly.

Recruitment is undergoing a revolution driven by investments in artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and automation to meet the demands of a changing workforce. The disruption is taking place in several facets within the talent acquisition model, including:

  • Candidate Experience: Often, HR teams don’t have the bandwidth to be accessible when candidates are on the career page or in the process of applying. We see a surge in the use of chatbots on career sites to answer candidates’ basic questions. Not only does this foster a positive sentiment, but it fills a communication gap in the earliest stages of the candidate experience.
  • Candidate Sourcing and Screening: Technology has been a game-changer as recruiters no longer have to comb through resumes. Platforms can shortlist and screen leading candidates for a position through a pre-determined series of questions. AI and machine learning has driven value through efficiency, immediacy, and informed decision-making.

Automating the search process can help narrow the time it takes to fill a job position, increase the time available to meet with candidates, and add much-needed reinforcements to your workforce.

Increase retention through training and reskilling

More job openings than people willing to fill them has resulted in stiff competition across the industry, and a growing need for employers to find creative ways to do more with less. Ceridian’s 2022 Pulse of Talent research revealed employees are partly seeking new jobs due to inadequate upskilling and reskilling opportunities, including a lack of growth opportunities (30%).

To stay ahead of the competition, retailers should focus on upskilling current employees to help solve existing business challenges while boosting employee experience and increasing retention. Retailers have had to pivot to changes in market conditions and customer needs resulting in their evolving use of technology. To help keep pace with these changes, associates should be given ongoing digital and e-commerce skills training. Other critical areas include soft skills and management training. In the retail sector, interpersonal skills are critical for both employee and customer experience.

How the training is delivered is also important. Learning platforms should provide relevant training and bite-sized learning as employees develop new skills.

Additionally, training should take into account an associate’s career goals and help define clear career paths for them by tying skills development with succession planning and task management.

By providing time for employees to engage in upskilling and reskilling, employers reinforce the development of their workforce is a priority, and that they will invest in the growth and development of their team.

Engage managers to drive talent retention

Strong leadership is vital for a happy, resilient, and engaged workforce. Middle managers are the face of executive policies and advocates for many employees. They have the power to make or break your employee experience, which directly affects retention, productivity, and customer experience.

For a happy and long-lasting workforce, both new and experienced middle managers should receive training in areas such as demonstrating empathy, building trust, delegating, and providing constructive performance feedback. This will help cultivate a strong culture and employee experience.

Ultimately, to have the time to invest in critical human touchpoints across the employee lifecycle, managers and the HR team need to be confident that administrative tasks are effectively being managed in an equitable way. AI and technology can reduce the administrative burden, so managers and the HR team have the time needed for these critical human touchpoints. A streamlined Human Capital Management platform that combines payroll, human resources, benefits, talent management, workforce management, and analytics in one single system can help retailers recruit and manage workers in an ever-changing world of work.

Jeffrey Clarke is director for value advisory Asia Pacific & Japan at Ceridian.