More Than a Dead End: Workforce Boards Can Build on Skills of Retail Workers

Whether you think the retail sector is going through an apocalypse or a just a restructuring, workforce boards across the country need to assist retail workers displaced by change. But workforce boards do have a major advantage: the skills developed in retail careers are a launching pad for a wide range of careers.

At the National Association of Workforce Boards conference Monday, Burning Glass Technologies presented data showing that most retail workers do move forward in their careers, and the skills they acquire apply in many other fields.

Our analysis of resume data shows that the majority of retail workers do in fact move up to higher paying jobs: two-thirds are in higher paying jobs within five years of their first retail job, and three-quarters have moved ahead within 10 years.

But the opportunities to earn more are better outside retail. Workers who transition out of retail are 40% more likely to be in a higher-paying job in five years than those who remain. Plus, workers who leave retail are more than twice as likely to be in jobs with a low risk of being replaced by automation.

It’s true that retail is often a “starter job” for high school and college students intending to move into other careers. But it’s also true that there is a high degree of overlap between the skills demanded in retail jobs and those demanded in other careers.

Every job is a collection of skills bundled together. Looking at the individual skills demanded in job descriptions is like examining the job’s DNA, breaking it down into its components and seeing what similarities it has to other roles. Retail shares a lot of common DNA with other fields—and so it offers a lot of transferrable skills.

Almost all of the baseline skills, or soft skills, contained in the resumes of retail workers—96%– are also in demand in jobs outside retail. That’s significant since one out of every three skills requested in a job posting are baseline skills such as  communication skills, customer service, problem-solving. These types of baseline skills are always in demand.

What is even more significant is the large number of specialized skills cited in retail resumes that overlap with other occupations. More than 90% of these specialized skills are also in demand outside retail, although some skills are more in demand inside retail than out of it. Accounting and sales management, for example, are in higher demand outside retail.

From a workforce development perspective, this means the training gap needed to move displaced workers from retail into other careers may be smaller than imagined. Specific technical skills will certainly be needed, but training programs can focus on high-value skills targeted at specific industries. Zeroing in on these “last mile” skills allow workers to quickly and cost-effectively transition into new careers.

To automatically receive notifications of future blogs, research, and labor market content, subscribe to Burning Glass Technologies content today. Read our recent blog here on manufacturing jobs, also data presented at the NAWB conference.