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Number of people working in retail continues to fall as job vacancies reach record highs

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The number of people employed in retail has continued to fall, the latest official figures show, despite a wider rise in UK employment.

The UK employment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points (pp) to 75.6% in the latest quarter, between February and April 2022, but is still below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Labour market overview, UK June 2022, from the Office for National Statistics. Weekly hours worked rose at the same time, by 12.2m hours to 1.04bn. This is still 7.6m hours below pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, the number of job vacancies available rose to a record 1.3m between March and May 2022, although the rate of growth has slowed. Regular total pay – excluding bonuses – grew by 4.2% between February and April 2022, but adjusted for inflation grew by 0.4% in real terms.

At the same time, the report also showed that fewer people now work in retail. There were 2.95m jobs in retail – 83,000 less than a year earlier. That includes 2.77m employees and 0.18m self-employed roles.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, says there’s now a need to train more staff. “Retail jobs numbers fell this quarter as the tightest labour market in decades intensified competition for talent,” she says. “This is doubly true as the hospitality and tourism industries recover from the pandemic. Nonetheless, the expansion of digital retail has created many new well-paid and exciting jobs in the industry, which will continue to grow in the future. However, only by reforming the Apprenticeship Levy can retailers deliver the future skills needed of the industry and train the next generation of skilled retail professionals.”

The Retail Trust warned last month that a fifth of staff plan to leave the industry because of concerns about finances, mental health and the level of abuse they receive. Younger workers, those employed in distribution and warehouses, and those who work for larger retailers are the most likely to say they will leave the industry, according to the trust’s Health of Retail report.

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