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Future Skills Requirements of the Wholesale and Retail Sector

Date: 10 May 2010 

Attracting and developing talent in the wholesale and retail sector will enhance productivity and drive competitiveness
Minister for Lifelong Learning, Sean Haughey TD, launches Expert Group report on skills needs for the wholesale retail sector

While employment growth is not forecast to return to the wholesale and retail sector in the short term, the sector continues to provide significant employment accounting for over 14 per cent of jobs in the country, according to a new report published today by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs.  Future Skills Needs of the Wholesale and Retail Sector finds that the industry will continue to be a relatively high turnover sector in comparison to the rest of the economy, and will provide important opportunities for people that have lost their jobs to re-engage with the labour market.  It is also a vital sector for entrepreneurship and small Irish businesses offering a broad spectrum of career paths to people at all skill levels.

Launching the report, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Seán Haughey T.D., highlighted the importance of the sector to the Irish economy, commenting, "Wholesale and retail is one of the most vital sectors to any economy. Most people interact with it on a daily basis. It accounts for 11 percent of value-added in the economy, directly employs 272,000 people and is highly connected with other sectors such as transport, storage, business services, ICT and agriculture. Developing the skills base of the workforce can drive innovation and enhance productivity in the sector, benefit the wider economy, provide a multitude of career paths for people with relatively low levels of qualifications and make a significant contribution towards the upskilling targets of the National Skills Strategy". 

The study is the result of extensive research and consultation with industry, unions, and education and training providers. It highlights how the industry is increasingly embracing rapid changes in technology and translating this into innovative and high effective supply chain management, marketing and customer service systems. The sector is increasingly professional with the proportion of those with third level qualifications working in the sector doubling to over 20 percent in the past 10 years. Skills development within the sector can also benefit the wider economy as the sector requires a broad range of generic skills that almost all enterprises need, such as customer service, communications, teamwork, problem-solving and IT skills.

The report highlights a range of skills issues currently affecting the sector that need to be addressed. These include poor public perceptions of the sector as a career choice, underdeveloped career paths and lack of formal recognition of workplace training. The central proposal of the report is to develop a skills framework for the sector that works across all levels of the National Framework of Qualifications, which will enable all enterprises and employees from the shop floor up to identify training needs and make career progression routes more visible.

Una Halligan, Chairperson of the Expert Group commented, "One of the main outcomes of this report is to dispel the myth that working in retail is just a job in a shop. The report reveals the depth and breadth of skills that are required across the wholesale and retail industry, however, they are not always evident to people working both within and outside of the sector. The skills framework has a number of important functions in this regard. It will facilitate a common and coherent set of education and training standards for the industry. It will assist existing employees to identify career paths and promote mobility within the sector. It will help the enterprises to communicate the diverse and highly skilled career opportunities to external candidates. Finally, it will enable public and private education and training providers to identify where gaps exist in current provision and thus adapt to industry needs. Enterprises, in conjunction with education and training stakeholders, will be instrumental in bringing the skills framework to life".

The report also calls for the Department of Education and Skills to commit to developing recognition of prior learning within the sector. Many people working in the sector may already have developed the skills and competencies they require to meet existing qualification standards. Recognition of prior learning has the potential to establish employees' existing competencies and their position on the National Framework of Qualifications, enhance employee mobility, and encourage workers to pursue further  education and more specialist qualifications within the sector. As a relatively high turnover sector, wholesale and retail can also play an important role in labour market activation, particularly in linking skills training with on-the-job practical experience.

RecommendationsDriver
Establish an industry-led group to co-ordinate the implementation of the report's recommendations. A prominent industry figure should be appointed to champion the development of the Skills Framework Industry Trade Associations
Develop a Skills Framework for the industry focused on learning outcomes and specific skill sets required by enterprises. The co-ordinating group should lead the adoption, promotion and roll-out of the Skills FrameworkIndustry Trade Associations and Education and Training Stakeholders
Prioritise public spend on education and training for the sector in areas such as e-learning/blended learning; continued support for training networks; recognition of prior learningDepartment of Education and Skills
Ensure that Higher Education address each of the professional disciplines set out in the Skills FrameworkRelevant Higher Education Institutes
Commit to the development of Recognition of Prior Learning in the sectorDepartment of Education and Skills
Provide labour market activation opportunities within wholesale and retail, which should entail on-the-job work experienceDepartment of Education and Skills