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Why the retail sector is ripe for flexible re-working

Emma StewartBy Emma Stewart, Co-Founder

It’s been said that Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, and the figures certainly seem to bear this out. The retail industry is the UK’s largest private sector employer, with around 3 million people in its workforce. And given that the majority of them work part time, it’s clear that making flexibility work should be a priority for retail employers.

However, whilst some roles, such as sales assistants, offer the potential for flexibility, there is a real lack of part-time opportunities in retail management.  As a result, large numbers of employees feel trapped in their current roles, unable to progress their careers or develop their skills in spite of their abilities, because the flexibility they want or need isn’t on offer at the next level.

Clearly that’s not great for the employees themselves – but it’s bad news for retailers too. No one knows exactly what the post-Brexit jobs market will look like, but it’s not scaremongering to suggest that it may lead to skills shortages in retail; and the industry is already grappling with huge challenges such as the growth of the online market.

It’s time for retail to embrace flexibility at all levels

So if retailers want to progress and keep hold of their best employees – and attract some brilliant new ones – they’ll need to make sure flexibility is embedded at all levels. That’s where we come in.

We’ve used our years of experience in the flexible sphere to develop a programme for change that specifically suits the retail sector. In the report on our pilot scheme with Pets at Home, we identified that female progression to store management was the core issue, and addressed it by redesigning these roles so they could operate on a part time or job sharing basis. The retailer is now rolling the programme out nationally.

Our Retail Pioneer Programme is leading the way

We’ve subsequently used our learnings to develop the Retail Pioneer Programme, offering an equally bespoke consultancy service to our five partners: B&Q, COOK, Dixons Carphone, Tesco and The John Lewis Partnership. We’ve hit the ground running, carrying out focus groups and data analysis to see how flexible working could help deliver their business strategies, and we’re looking forward to seeing it through and delivering radical, sustainable change for these organisations.

Despite the challenges the retail industry is currently facing, there’s a lot to celebrate. It employs a large number of flexible workers, and it does support progression to senior level; almost a third of its current crop of CEOs have worked their way up from sales assistant roles.  If we can combine the two, and deliver that progression for people who work on a flexible basis, everyone will benefit.

To find out more about taking part in the Retail Pioneers Programme, call 020 7633 4444 or email

Published May 2017

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