Over the past decade, retailers have been aggressively re-evaluating how they do business. While on-line sales are some of the major contributing factors to the decrease in the number of department stores; there are other economic factors, including the costs associated with operating a retail business and recent laws requiring an increase in minimum wages.

Due to the recent reduction in physical locations, many major retailers have been forced to let employees go in large numbers, negatively affecting families and local communities. According to the Wall Street Journal, brick-and-mortar stores have been closing at a record pace in the last year. In its monthly employment statistics report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the retail industry has lost an average of 9,000 jobs per month, and general merchandise stores have lost an average of 13,000 jobs per month over the past 6 months. While some stores are filing for bankruptcy--including retail brands Limited, HHGregg, and Gander Mountain, and others, are changing how they sell. The Bebe brand, for example, decided to close its remaining 170 shops and only sell online.

As legacy brands navigate the rough retail waters, layoffs are inevitable. But all is not lost for retail employees. Just as leading retail and merchandise companies must adjust their selling strategies, smart employees should consider shifting their approach for continued employment. The shift across retail could actually bring new jobs for opportunistic employees - if employees stay ahead of the curve and proactively prepare for the evolution of retail.

The retail industry might be minimizing its footprint, but job opportunities still exist for those with a well-developed skillset. Retail employees can start preparing themselves for the inevitable changes ahead, and retail employers can support employees by providing the information and support necessary to help employees transition successfully to their next opportunities.

Other industries need the skills of retail employees

Just because some types of retail stores are closing, and roles at these types of businesses are limited, it doesn’t mean there is no future for retail employees. In fact, while some retail stores are closing, many types of retail stores are still actively looking for employees. People who enjoy working with the public in a retail store environment, may find their passion at a different type of retail store – such as a home improvement store.

In addition, the skills acquired by retail employees are transferable to other industries. The trick for retail employees is to identify and promote those skills that make them most desirable, based on the job descriptions of roles they may be interested in pursuing. To find these roles, use your current job description to identify other, adjacent roles. For instance, if you were hired into a specific position, look for similar titles on the web and compare your skills to those listed in the job description.

To begin the job search process, retail employees – or anyone hoping to make a career change -  can start to think about what they’ve been able to achieve in their current and past roles. If you’re considering changing industries, ask yourself what skills people recognize you for – think about what sales bonuses you earned, internal competitions you won, or accolades you have received from supervisors, managers, or customers.

If your colleagues are always turning to you for help in a particular situation, such as difficult customer, or always asking you when they need help with something specific, like organizing the customer database, focus on that as an area of strength. Don’t be afraid to ask around – your peers are a great resource to give you input about what made you an exceptional team member to work with.

Next, consider what you actually, honestly, enjoy doing. In other words, what activities or efforts do you find most personally satisfying? Perhaps you’re very good at selling products, but you don’t like working directly with the public and would actually prefer to work behind the scenes. Conduct a quick self-assessment to find the overlap between your skills and your passions in the workplace.

Once you’ve identified your sweet spot, and you’re comfortable with your self-assessment, you can begin looking for jobs based on matching your skills to the requirements listed in job descriptions. While this approach can be applied across any industry, it’s particularly applicable in the retail space now. Whether you have worked the sales floor or stocked a warehouse, you possess skills that are needed at other jobs, and across different industries.

Start by understanding how the skills and abilities you mastered while at a retail position relate to other jobs. For example, perhaps you gained experience answering phones and interacting with customers in a clothing shop. While your main objective would no longer be selling clothes, your skills would be transferable to a receptionist position at a healthcare facility. When you are looking at job listings, focus less on the particular industry experience, and more on the actual job requirements and the employer’s preferences for particular skills – and don’t be afraid to stretch by developing new skills in addition to the skills you’ve already worked so hard to perfect.

Consider redeployment as an option

Like most organizations, retailers may be eliminating positions in one area, while actively recruiting and hiring in another. Creating an atmosphere, and putting systems in place, where valuable employees can discover, apply for, and land new opportunities within the organization is one way retail stores can lessen the impact on communities while lowering costs associated with layoffs, recruitment, and onboarding. As employers place greater value on the employee experience, they should proactively offer structured redeployment and career coaching services to employees in an effort to help with job transition.

Even when an employer doesn’t have a formalized redeployment program in place, individual employees should consider looking within the organization for opportunities. After all, who better to help with on-line customer service than an employee who has worked the floor and has extensive first-hand experience with the inventory?

If you’re an employee without access to redeployment services, it’s still possible to make a transition from one role in the company to another easier. Talk with your manager about ways to gain the additional skills that may be necessary to successfully transfer to a different, desirable position within your current company. By proactively taking ownership of your own career and staying aware of other internal and external job opportunities, you can fine-tune the skillsets you’ll need to successfully land desirable job opportunities.

There’s no substitute for expert advice

Whether you’re an employee looking for career guidance, or a retail employer looking for expert advice about how to reduce the impact of large-scale layoffs on your employees, community, and your larger customer base – there’s no substitute for expert advice. Contemporary career transition services will help employers protect the employer brand while keeping promises to loyal employees.

For employees, a career coach can offer unbiased assistance and help individuals identify and plan to improve areas where their skills do not match the requirements of the job they’re seeking. Especially for individuals leaving one industry to join another, it’s beneficial to have the guidance of a professional coach to guide your steps and keep you on track.

Whether you’re looking inside your industry, or searching for opportunities in adjacent industries, employers are looking for future team members who possess the right hard and soft skills. In today’s changing business landscape, soft skills have taken on greater importance. No matter the role, the ability to communicate, organize, and collaborate with others are skills most hiring managers view as critical to job success.

While retailers are figuring out how to revitalize their industry, employees have one job to do: position themselves strategically for the next point in their career. This could mean staying in retail with your current employer and changing the type of work you do, staying in retail and changing the type of store you work in, or preparing to apply your skills to work in a new industry.

In retail, as in most industries, change is the only certainty. How employers and employees prepare for, and react to, these changes will be the difference between future successes and failures for each of them.

07 June 2017

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