The number of people employed in retail increased 1.8% in the first quarter, driven by non-food store groups.

The BRC-Bond Dickinson Retail Employment Monitor said the findings add strength to recent improvements in the overall UK labour market and that the growth was particularly impressive given the late timing of Easter this year.

The improvement was in part driven by a 1.3% increase in the number of stores in the period. This was driven entirely by food retailers. However, non-food retailers contributed disproportionately to the number of full-time jobs created from January to the end of March.

Growth of full-time hours outpaced part-time “highlighting rising confidence particularly in non-food retail”, the report found.  The level of redundancies fell to their lowest rate since July 2011 in March. 

Three quarters of retailers intend to keep staffing levels the same in the coming three months, compared with around two thirds at the same time last year. 

The proportion of retailers planning to decrease staffing levels improved to 8%, down from 20% the previous quarter, while 17% intend to increase levels - “a marginal improvement on last year”.

The level of redundancies fell to their lowest rate since July 2011 in March. 

British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson said: “The importance of retail’s contribution to the economy is underlined again by this encouraging growth in jobs. As the UK’s largest private employer, it’s also particularly heartening to see increases across all types of role, including full-time hires. This demonstrates increasing confidence.

“Non-food retailers have performed particularly well this quarter for employment. With strong growth in full-time staff in this category, it is clear that the impact of more positive sales results and better economic conditions is unlocking increased investment.

“Those joining a retailer for the first time can look forward to a career with fantastic opportunities in an industry with an enviable record for training and development. With retailers providing such welcome career options, right in the heart of local communities across the UK, there is much to celebrate in today’s figures.”

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, head of retail employment at business law firm Bond Dickinson, said: “Retailers certainly seem to be on the road to recovery with growth dominating the figures this quarter. The increase in full-time jobs is particularly heartening, demonstrating a longer-term confidence and mirroring improvements in the UK labour market overall.

“In a departure from recent years when food retailers have underpinned any growth in retail employment, non-food retailers have actually driven the increase in full time jobs. It looks like the recovery has finally started to be felt outside of the supermarkets.”