Retail careers are rarely intentional

July 18 2005 - Research by Monash University's Australian Centre for Retail Studies (ACRS) shows that retail is rarely a first choice of career, with most people who work in retail having 'fallen into it'.

Retail is one of the largest sectors in Australia and employees more young people than any other, but few studies have been conducted into the culture of retail employees and how a career in retail progresses. The ACRS aims to narrow this gap in knowledge with its four-phase 'Shopfloor to boardroom' research project.

Amanda Young, ACRS executive director, said the first phase of the study has already identified three possible paths followed by people in retail careers.

"The first group includes those who started working in retail to earn money - not necessarily thinking of it as a career," said Amanda Young. "Generally they are casual or part-time staff and are studying at the same time. After working in the industry for a while, this group found they enjoyed it and as new opportunities presented themselves they decided to stay.

"The second group is similar to the first but, unlike those in the first group, they left their retail jobs when their study was complete. After a few years, however, these people found themselves back in the retail industry in either store management or head office roles."

Amanda Young said the third retail career path was less common, being characterised by people who had never worked in retail but who crossed over later in their careers, usually into head office roles.

The study also showed several factors that would be valuable to retailers as they planned their workforce and recruitment strategies.

"The message for retailers is clear - they must demystify what happens behind the scenes and make existing and potential employees aware of the opportunities available to them beyond the shopfloor, where many people believe a retail career starts and finishes," she said.

"Retailers should view their casual and part-time staff as candidates for retail careers. These staff members already have an understanding of the industry and often it just takes someone to notice them or suggest the idea for them to become long-term employees.

"Retailers who have already started doing this are reaping the benefits of being able to recruit largely from within."