Demand for retail staff slides at start of Q2, KPMG and REC show


The Report on Jobs, published today by KPMG and the REC, signalled substantial falls in demand for both permanent and short-term retail workers in April.

The index measuring demand for permanent retail staff fell to a fresh series low of 4.5 in April, far lower than the previous record of 20.3 set in March. The figure indicated a steep drop in the number of vacancies for permanent retail workers, which have declined in each of the past 14 months. Demand for permanent staff also collapsed across the UK as a whole, with the respective seasonally adjusted index posting at 8.9. Of the ten monitored sectors, retail ranked eighth place, with only hotels & catering and secretarial/clerical seeing sharper drops in demand.

Meanwhile, the number of temporary retail vacancies in the UK also fell at an unprecedented rate in April. The respective index dropped from 27.8 in March to 12.5, indicating a substantial drop in demand, albeit one that was softer than for permanent staff. In fact, of the nine sectors recording declines in temporary vacancies, retail saw the second-weakest reduction (behind blue collar). The only sector to register higher demand for short-term staff was nursing.

Commenting on the latest KPMG/REC Report on Jobs from a retail perspective, Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “With the nation in the depths of lockdown throughout April, and retail consisting only of what’s been deemed ‘essential’, it’s unsurprising to see the employment prospects within the sector fall so drastically. The latest figures make the employment impact of this pandemic all too clear – and we can’t afford to lose sight of just how significant an employer the UK retail industry is.

“On one hand you have essential retailers like grocers tirelessly peddling away to keep up with surging demand, including the influx of home deliveries or the additional people power needed to keep stores operating safely. Meanwhile, on the other hand, you have every other retailer in deep hibernation, with much of their workforce furloughed.

“It’s clear that flexibility will be vital, especially now, and that rings loud and clear with temporary vacancies faring marginally better than the prospects for finding a permanent position. When lockdown does finally ease – in whatever form that may take  – many stores won’t reopen at all and this will likely exacerbate the employment prospects even further.

“People will still be crucial to retail’s survival though, with a key focus likely to be on having the right talent at hand to navigate through the crisis. Equally though, key costs – including employees – will require careful consideration in the coming months, if retailers are to have sufficient cash to continue trading.”

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