One in three retail workers holding out for redundancy before switching careers


34% of retail workers in the UK are waiting to be made redundant before switching careers, according to a survey released by professional training provider Learning People. 

The trend is mirrored nationally, with over a third (34%) of workers at the sharp end of changing labour demands waiting to be made redundant before switching careers. This figure rises to 62% among those aged under 35, with younger employees also reporting more pay freezes, shrinking teams and zero-hour contracts.

The study interviewed 1,000 employees in job functions and sectors experiencing declining demand according to UK labour market projections. Namely administrative and secretarial roles, agricultural employees, machine operatives and skilled trades in manufacturing, land transport workers and sales and customer service staff in the retail sector.

Reflecting on the past five years, more than three in four retail workers (76%) complain of shrinking teams and increasing workloads, 55% have experienced pay freezes and almost half (45%) say redundancies have become commonplace.

Across the sectors, young employees present a bleaker picture of working life than older colleagues. 64% of employees under 35 report pay freezes, compared to just over half (57%) of older workers. Similarly, 65% of younger employees have seen an increase in zero-hour contracts in contrast to just 39% of older workers, and 58% say redundancies have become a regular occurrence, compared with 40% of over 35s.

While almost one in 10 (9%) employees in declining labour markets have either already begun retraining or plan to start soon, around a quarter (23%) want to switch careers but don’t know what else to do.

When asked what they’d consider as a second career, IT and coding jobs top the poll, with 12% of respondents choosing this if they were to switch now. Charity and voluntary roles are next at 10%, with business, consulting and management at 9%, accounting and banking at 8% and creative arts and design at 6%.

In terms of how redundancy money would be used, top priorities amongst those working in the retail industry include investing in savings, holidays, home renovations and paying off debts. Courses to retrain also feature highly.

How those working in retail would spend redundancy money
1. Savings
2. Holiday abroad
3. Pay off debts
4. Courses or qualifications to retrain
5. House renovations
6. Move house
7. Go travelling
8. Spend it all on one big purchase (e.g. car)
9. Shopping spree
10. Start own business

Mike Appleby, Head of Global Talent Community at Learning People comments:

“Ten years on from the financial crisis many employers are still in a cycle of redundancies, especially those adapting to automation. If you think redundancy’s coming it can make sense to hold out for a payout, but don’t stand still in the meantime. Update your skills while still in your old job. Getting in on the fast-rising tech industry is not as daunting as many think and can often re-focus your current role – an admin exec conversant in cyber security risks is much more valuable than one who isn’t.

“A big barrier is the lack of support and advice available for people who want to make a career change. Most people approach this by Googling but that can often lead to further confusion. People end up on job adverts which show their experience doesn’t fit the bill, regardless of their transferrable skills. Instead, find networking opportunities and talk to people in a career you’re interested in. Understand what you’re passionate about, what opportunities are local to you and engage organisations that suit, rather than seek out exact roles. This will help identify what training is needed to make the jump.”

Mark Rhodes, Marketing Director at UK employment agency Reed, adds:

“The good news for those wanting to switch career to IT and coding is the whole technology sector is booming and IT skills are in high demand. We’ve seen an 8% year-on-year rise in vacancies so far in 2019, contributing to a 35% rise in technology vacancies since 2016”.

47-year-old Charles Karanja from Cambridge retrained with Learning People in 2017 after an administration career and is now a SOC Support Analyst at Telefónica. He comments:

“While I enjoyed my old administrative job, I felt stuck and unsure of my long-term prospects. I looked into cyber security because I’ve always been fascinated by data breaches and hacks. When the ‘WannaCry’ hack affected my wife’s job, she phoned, asking when I was going to make the move.

“Don’t let a lack of experience put you off. Think about your transferrable skills, the things you’re good at and passionate about. Then study. Despite having absolutely no tech experience I was able to secure my current position once I finished my course. I learn more every day as the world of tech is constantly changing. That constant change makes me feel I’ve found a role with a future.”

About the survey

1,000 employees were interviewed by market research agency 4Media Group in March 2019 in the following job functions and sectors – administrative and secretarial roles, agricultural employees, machine operatives and skilled trades in manufacturing, land transport workers and sales and customer service staff in the retail sector. These roles were selected as experiencing declining employment demand in line with the UK labour market projections 2014-2024

80% of those surveyed are in full time employment and 20% in employed part-time.

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