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The missing link to our retail future? Why retail isn’t a ‘proper career’

2 min read

If you’re reading this article, chances are, you already work in retail. From my view of the industry, it seems like the sector doesn’t seem to care about the future, which we all (should) know lies in its people.  

There is a Maori proverb (spot the Kiwi): He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata. Translated: It is the people, the people, the people. So why isn’t the retail industry investing more in its people? I can’t figure out why Australia doesn’t have a proper retail qualification. Sure, there is some great work being done with the likes of Deakin University, TAFE, RMIT and others offering courses in retail, but there is no dedicated degree. No one university is acknowledging the importance of retail to our GDP. And yet.. 

  • 1.2 million* Australians are employed in the retail sector, making it the second largest employer in the country 
  • 50% of workers are employed in retail part-time 
  • Jobs in retail are available throughout the entire country with 420 000 workers employed in rural areas 
  • 32% of retail workers are under 24 and 30% are 45 years or older – showing the opportunity for career progression 
  • 52% of workers don’t have qualifications higher than secondary 
  • 25% of retail workers have a Certificate III or higher and 6% have a diploma or similar 


The industry is rapidly growing and experiencing a challenging transformation with the introduction of new technologies, greater pressure on omnichannel and the central role of the customer. Retailers are having to grapple with data, strategy and onboarding new technologies, but less than 30% of the sector have a qualification to help them deal with these changes.  

The retail sector is going to have a massive skills shortage to add the myriad of other challenges that are facing the sector with the pressure of global trade and shifting trends. We’ve positioned retail as a transition career appealing to students, but how many retailers are investing in their people to create an effective succession plan for their company? I hope we’re at least investing in a tonne of PD to upskill the ones we have. 

Things may seem a bit grim, but I promise they’re not! We’re heading into an exciting retail future, but we need to bring the next generation with us. The industry can drive support for a retail qualification, or create opportunities for the 32% of workers that are under 24 to show them the career pathways in retail. Set up a mentoring programme and bring your current leaders face to face with the future leaders. All is not lost. Yet.  

And we’re doing more at the Retail Learning Channel than poke holes in the current status quo…We’re trying to do something about it!  

New Retail ’19 is working with tertiary institutions to connect students to global retail innovators, pioneers and well-established leaders. But we need more help! We’re offering students passes to attend and the opportunity to pitch their ideas to industry leaders at the event. Help us pass on the message and send students to the Retail Learning Channel to get them in touch about how they can kick-start their retail career.  

There’s 1.2 million of us and we’re all responsible for the future of the sector – so make a difference and get the next generation involved. He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata.


*Figures obtained from upskilled.edu.au 


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