It’s not right that one in eight workers in the UK are trapped in poverty, with large numbers working in the retail sector, our largest private sector industry.
Three million people work in our high street shops, fulfil online orders in warehouses, and deliver parcels or groceries. Retail has the highest number of people on low pay than any other sector - two thirds of low-paid retail workers are women, and many retail workers are stuck in low pay.
Just over half of retail workers think they are less likely to be promoted if they work part-time, although two thirds would like a promotion if they could take their part-time arrangements with them. Higher paid jobs in retail are less likely to be part-time. Understanding the challenges of the retail industry, and working with retailers to make jobs better, really matters if we want to see more people in better paid, higher quality jobs.
One solution is for retailers to make the same flexibility valued by their entry-level employees routinely available for everyone in their business. That’s why it is great to see Timewise developing their Retail Pioneers scheme. It's a practical way of improving career progression for those who need flexibility. Being able to move to higher paid jobs and progress in their careers can make a real difference to tight household budgets when working more hours just isn’t the answer. Working with household names such as John Lewis and Tesco, as well as the British Retail Consortium, it's looking at ways to redesign retail jobs.
As Timewise say in their new report, concepts of ‘full’ and 'part-time' feel meaningless in an industry where stores are open over 80 hours a week - and longer for 24-hour on-line operations. It must be possible to design more senior managerial or supervisor jobs with less than a 35-hour week. After all everyone is, in effect, part-time in terms of opening hours. But time needs to be made within businesses for managers to do this. Retailers can also be pro-active in advertising all roles as flexible, and promote and hire flexibly.
It’s all part of a movement of businesses and organisations looking at improving job quality, such as Lush, who pay the higher voluntary Living Wage or Greggs who are developing new ways to improve progression. For more case studies, see Business in the Community’s new on-line hub: Good Work for All.
UK retailers are world-renowned for their innovation, so focussing that on offering more job opportunities seems a win-win. The business drivers for more flexible managerial roles in retail are clear - retaining talent, reducing recruitment costs, staff engagement, tackling the gender pay gap, and boosting productivity. More part-time employees progressing in work, taking home a larger pay packet, will also help to right the wrong of in-work poverty.