Retail job numbers tumble in early 2017

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. lost 60,000 retail jobs in the first three months of 2017, Axios reports, most of them cashier and sales positions. Preliminary statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the current number of jobs in that sector stands at 15.85 million.
  • It's a notable trend after a steady increase in retail jobs since the last recession. Axios says the decline is most likely to affect low-wage jobs held by teens, seniors and immigrants. This working class demographic has also considerably influenced a recent surge of populism globally.
  • Retail employment is likely a victim of online shopping. Department stores have closed in droves this year, and even though competitors like Amazon have introduced higher-paying manufacturing jobs gradually, analysts say there aren't nearly enough to absorb unemployed hourly retail workers.

Dive Insight:

This is big news, even if you're not heading up human resources for a large retail chain. Consider this: Salespeople and cashiers — the same two positions most likely to be impacted by this decline — are the top two jobs (by number of persons employed) for workers in the U.S. Any fluctuation in this statistic has consequences for the job market as a whole.

It's a trend that contrasts sharply with employment numbers for the sector during the holidays. Both income and employment levels jumped in late 2016, and the U.S. added over 200,000 jobs in the month of November alone.

Most of those jobs may have been seasonal or otherwise temporary, however, another indication that full-time jobs are increasingly rare. Moreover, their replacements (part-time/temp/seasonal positions) often come without much-needed benefits.

Industry disrupter Amazon recently went against this current with its reported addition of 30,000 new part-time jobs, including 5,000 telecommuting positions with full-time benefits, to be phased in over the next 18 months. But as Axios and others are quick to point out, it's going to take more than that to solve the problem.

Skills training is an absolute must for HR leaders who are tasked with managing part-time workers. Observers predict that automation will take hold of retail and industries like it in the near-future, leaving human employees either working on new tasks or out of work altogether. But if training can be retooled and refocused towards skill gaps that already exist today, employees will be prepared for these circumstances.

Amazon, with its speedy two-day onboarding process for seasonal employees, is already focusing on methods that make learning more immediate and applicable to a given job. Wal-Mart, the world's largest employer, now boasts 100 U.S. training centers designed to teach associates not just how to operate day-to-day, but also how to transition to the managerial and upper levels of business functions.

Not all companies have as many resources as these two examples, of course. But experts say that even on a budget, your employee training process can already be managed more efficiently. In many blue-collar industries, skilling on both foundational knowledge and soft skills can help workers develop even further than their current positions would allow.

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Filed Under: Recruiting
Top image credit: Wikimedia; Ninjakeg