- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' December jobs report showed a loss of 67,000 seasonally adjusted retail jobs, but these numbers might be overstating job losses in that sector, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.
- While brick-and-mortar stores like Macy's, Sears and JC Penney have recently closed stores, Amazon and other online retailers have added positions in their fulfillment centers and warehouses. A U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) economist told WSJ that those workers may be counted as employees in the shipping and warehouse job categories, not retail.
- Progressive Policy Institute chief economic strategist Mike Mandel said in the report that DOL and other government statistics providers still have yet to catch up to modern definitions of e-commerce when evaluating job growth, arguing that a better classification system is needed in order to improve assessment of the retail industry. The transportation and warehousing sector gained 74,000 jobs in December, according to the December jobs report.
Retail job numbers have fallen into a predictable cycle over the past few years. The holiday season generally brings growth thanks to an uptake of seasonable workers, then companies begin loading off many of those workers early into the new year.
But if you read between the lines, it's easy to spot some of the bigger, profound questions for the industry (one of the U.S.'s biggest employers) going into 2018. For example, what exactly will retail workers be doing as technological progress looms overhead? How far will e-commerce disrupt the distribution of goods and affect or even shut down traditional, brick-and-mortar storefronts? And what will become of the hundreds of thousands of workers left in the wake of those changes?
Automation could significantly change retail job numbers. The technology could claim 7.5 million retail jobs alone in coming years, according to a report from Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute. Computerization will likely replace 3.5 million cashiers, according to a separate forecast.
Statistical evaluations of the industry should evolve, but the more important question for employers in the retail industry — and other industries threatened by automation — is how to prep the workforce for the jobs that do not yet exist. All signs seem to indicate that it will take a combined effort; employers, educators and legislators each have a part to play. Expect apprenticeship growth, job-training partnerships and organizational initiatives to lead the way.