The threat of a mass skills exodus from the retail industry is brewing as the workforce ages and many senior retailers near retirement, according to new research from specialist recruiter Randstad Business Support.

A recent report by Ros Altmann, the Pensions Minister, shows that the number of people in the workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have risen 3.7 million to 13.8 and the number aged 16-49 will have reduced by 700,000 million  by 2022[1]. If this proportion of employees leave the workforce upon reaching state pension age, this will cause an exodus of senior staff, significantly intensifying the current skills shortage.

Main findings are:

  • Large proportion of senior talent set to leave the workforce as baby boomers near retirement
  • Retail sector to suffer huge losses: a quarter of employees are over the age of 50
  • Seven in ten (68%) retail employees say older workers are under societal pressure to leave the workforce at state pension age; 25% plan to retire early as a result
  • Flexible working, phased retirement and retraining schemes all have a part to play in retaining senior staff for longer

The retail industry in particular, is set to suffer as the baby boomer generation leaves the workforce. One in four retail workers (25%) is aged 50 and over according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions[2]. Furthermore, the retail sector accounts for 15.8% (4.4 million) of the UK’s total employment, according to a report by the House of Commons Library[3]. This means any exodus from the sector will have a huge knock-on effect on the wider UK workforce.

Despite this looming threat, Randstad’s research illustrates a strong societal pressure for people to leave the workforce at state pension age. In a poll of retail industry employees, over two thirds (68%) of respondents reported feeling this pressure.

Subsequently, a quarter (25%) of retail employees reported plans to retire early. The biggest force behind these plans is feeling that they ‘won’t be wanted’ in the workforce when they are older, with 20% of respondents stating this as their key reason.

Ruth Jacobs, managing director of Randstad Business Support, comments: “The retail sector accounts for a significant portion of employment across the UK and given the high volume of industry workers nearing state pension age, there is an extremely valid concern for a skills shortage should these employees retire en masse. These senior employees have expertise in areas that their younger colleagues don’t – many successfully weathered the storms the retail sector faced through recession –so seeing them exit the workforce collectively could mean retailers lose their most knowledgeable staff, exacerbating an already biting skills shortage.”

[1] A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit – March 2015

[2] Department for Work and Pensions: Statistics on older workers by sector

[3] House of Commons Library: The retail industry: statistics and policy, 2014

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