AMs collaborate with Retail and Education specialists to Equip Workforce for Automated Future of Retail

(from left to right) Sara Jones, Head of Welsh Retail Consortium, Andy Francis, Head of Customer Experience at Boots UK, Ken Skates, Iestyn Davies, CEO ColegauCymru, Hannah Blythyn AM (Photo by Matthew Horwood)

Hannah Blythyn AM sponsored a joint Wales Retail Consortium and ColegauCymru / CollegesWales event to highlight the importance of training a highly skilled retail workforce to excel within what will become a highly technological sector.

At a Senedd reception this afternoon, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Ken Skates delivered a keynote address on the importance of retail, which is Wales’ largest private sector employer and is undergoing a transformation more profound and far-reaching than ever before.

At the centre of the change sits a technological revolution that has fundamentally altered how customers shop, the way retailers work, and the skills they are nurturing for the future. This has important implications for future skills and the role further education colleges can play in providing them.

The Retail 2020 – Skills for the Future event highlighted how thousands of current retail jobs did not exist five years ago, with a quarter of non-food retail sales now being online and this transformation will continue to accelerate, with huge implications for Wales.

ColegauCymru / CollegesWales and Wales Retail Consortium have a shared vision of a more productive industry committed to sustainable growth, which continues to play a vital and unique role within the Welsh economy.

Hannah Blythyn AM said: “I am delighted to be sponsoring this joint event between the Wales Retail Consortium and ColegauCymru in the National Assembly. The event has brought together experts from across the sector to discuss the technological revolution that is taking place within retail. These technological advancements are changing the way people shop, presenting new opportunities and challenges for the sector. In adapting to these challenges that lie ahead, partnership work between the retail sector and colleges will be essential in both reskilling and upskilling the vast retail workforce in Wales.”

Sara Jones, ‎Head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: “It is vital that the retail sector is not overlooked by Government as being a vital economic driver of growth and jobs.  The retail industry is a key contributor to the Welsh economy, employing over 135,000 people and playing a vital role in communities the length and breadth of Wales.

“However, both the ONS, and our own figures, show consumer spending is under pressure from higher overall inflation, higher food prices and other costs.

“Retailers have kept shop prices down in the face of significant input inflation – but that can’t continue forever.  To ensure we have an industry that thrives, one that continues to invest in the skills needs of its employees, we need a supportive business environment and one that is recognised by Government as being a vital cog in the economic engine.

“The very nature of the jobs being done is changing, and retailers are investing more in the skills needs of our employees to ensure we’re equipped to meet the challenges ahead.”

Iestyn Davies, CEO at ColegauCymru / CollegesWales, the national educational charity raising the profile of Wales’ 14 further education (FE) colleges and institutions among decision makers, emphasised the importance of higher level skills, career progression and opportunities. He said: “There has been a dramatic shift in the retail landscape and this will accelerate in future. While automation and online ordering become the norm and impact on the checkout and similar retail roles we are familiar with, change and challenges also offer many positives.

“While career paths will be different from those we know now, there are endless opportunities for those currently in retail to upskill and embrace the challenges by engaging with colleges across Wales, which are preparing fully for the shift into automation. Human capital will always be crucial to this and reskilling and upskilling will ensure a fully competent, efficient workforce to contribute to a productive, thriving economy. We are in continual discussions with business to deliver a tailored training package that meets their future requirements.”

Economy and Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates, added: “With turnover in the industry increasing from £14.7billion in 2010 to £15.9billion in 2016, and the sector providing direct and indirect employment opportunities to thousands of people across Wales, the value of retail to the Welsh economy is clear and we are committed to supporting its continued growth.

“There is no denying the sector has experienced significant changes over the last few decades with technological developments, different business operating models and digital skills all having an impact on the landscape of retail.

“As such our approach to supporting the sector must be mindful of these changes, and resulting challenges and opportunities, to enable the industry to continue to make a valuable contribution to the Welsh economy and as a government we are exploring how our policies might meet those demands.”