Don't Let Automation Push Out Retail Workers
TD Magazine

Don't Let Automation Push Out Retail Workers

Short- and long-term education opportunities provide a future for those in retail.

Talent development professionals have long been aware that the retail environment poses unique challenges for helping employees develop new skills. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those challenges and drawn attention to the pivotal role that frontline workers in industries such as retail play in American society.

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Guild's 2020 Retail Strategy Talent Report emphasizes the changing nature of retail work in the COVID-19 era. The report also details the key role that educational programs can play in helping retain workers as well as upskill or reskill individuals to benefit both their careers and the companies they work for.

The report reveals that 47 percent of total US jobs are at risk for being automated, especially lower-paying jobs in industries such as retail. The pandemic is both accelerating and disrupting that trend toward automation.

Prior to the pandemic, automation was already leading to the decline of some positions, such as customer service representatives. Now those positions are disappearing at a faster rate. Demand for other roles, such as cashier and stock clerk, have grown during the pandemic, but those positions are at risk for being automated in the future.

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The climate of uncertainty increases the importance of upskilling and reskilling training for retail workers, which enables companies to hire for their immediate talent needs while giving employees a path forward if their current roles are lost to automation. Organizations that want to help employees upskill or reskill should consider—in addition to full degree programs—short-form educational opportunities, such as undergraduate
or graduate certificates in targeted, business-critical areas. Some of those short-term certifications could be stackable, assisting employees in pursuing a full degree over time.

Research suggests that employees want those kinds of educational opportunities. Guild reports that one-third of Americans believe they would need more education or training to replace a lost job with one that provides a similar wage or salary. When companies offer retail employees pathways to new careers, they avoid future talent shortages while helping workers protect their employment prospects.

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About the Author

Eliza Blanchard, APTD, is ATD's Learning & Development content manager. Contact her at [email protected]

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