12 months ago

Almost three million people were working in the UK retail sector last year. It takes in every kind of shopping experience: a retail job might mean working in a major high street store, a little independent shop or even behind the scenes for an online retailer. We love to shop (and when it comes to essentials, like food, we need to shop) and it shows in the numbers, with UK retail sales worth £339 billion in 2015.

What Can I Do?

Perhaps the most recognisable job in retail is the most visible one, which is working at the till to take money from customers and maybe help them pack up their shopping. Every shop has this – in some places, like supermarkets, there are dedicated checkout roles; in others, you’ll combine working on the till with other things. Those ‘other things’ might include working on the shop floor, where you could be helping customers find what they need, making sure the shelves and displays are filled with products and generally keeping an eye on things. It’s another highly visible role. Less visible but no less important are the background roles, which might see you working in the stockroom, or perhaps in the office of the shop. This can involve receiving deliveries, keeping track of what’s in the store, organising everything behind the scenes or taking care of admin tasks like cashing up or paperwork for the bank. For an online retailer there are lots of other roles, obviously demanding ICT skills. Retail is often a good way to get management experience too, as the workforce tends to be young and you can be given a lot of responsibility early on.

You could work in…

  • A retail apprentice might be located in:
  • A major department store
  • A small independent boutique shop
  • Warehouses
  • Stock rooms or back offices
  • Supermarkets

sales assistant apprentice

Retail Skills

Working in retail can mean being on your feet for much of the day. In a lot of stores you could be standing behind the till for your entire shift, walking around on the shop floor or even carrying produce out from the storeroom (or helping unload deliveries to the store). That doesn’t mean you need to have Olympic-level fitness, but you will need to be reasonably happy to be up and about for between eight and ten hours. Success in retail is as much about your attitude as your technical knowledge. You’ll need to be friendly, conscientious and professional at all times, even when dealing with annoying customers, for example. That means being a good communicator, knowing your products and taking pride in them. In some roles you’ll be expected to actively sell to people, too, so you’ll need to be even more charming and persuasive; although in many cases you’ll get some training to help with this. Because you’ll be working with tills, stock levels and so on, you’ll need to be fairly numerate and have decent ICT skills – don’t worry though, if you can use a smartphone, you’ll get your head around a POS (point of sale) system in no time. Even better, many of the skills you’ll develop – customer service, sales, teamwork and even management – will transfer nicely to other retail roles, so you’ll have lots of options for career progression.

Getting started

To find out what’s available near you, visit careermap.co.uk and search for vacancies. Many High Street chains (including big names like McDonald’s, KFC and Aldi) have their own Apprenticeship programmes, so it’s always worth investigating your local stores to see what’s on offer. Routes into the retail sector include:

  • Apprenticeships
  • Vocational qualifications / A Levels
  • National Diplomas and Certificates
  • Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs)
  • Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
  • Bachelors Degrees

Because retail is such a wide-ranging and varied industry there are lots of roles at different levels and you don’t always need qualifications to get started. If you’re thinking retail might be for you, you could look to get some work experience or a weekend job in a local shop to see if it’s a good fit and to start developing skills that will be attractive to employers when you apply for apprenticeships, etc. Think of it as a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement



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