At colleges and universities up and down the country, thousands of students are receiving their degrees or diplomas in graduation ceremonies.

At colleges and universities up and down the country, thousands of students are receiving their degrees or diplomas in graduation ceremonies.

These are always emotional occasions, but this year seems to have an even greater poignancy, with so much talk about the effects of rising unemployment among the young.

Thankfully, last week’s graduation awards at the Fashion Retail Academy in London had an altogether more positive air, for several reasons. A room full of nearly 700 students who clearly love retail is pretty infectious and the fact that Academy founder and major sponsor, Sir Philip Green, managed to get singer Rita Ora to come along and present the top prize raised the energy to an even higher level. But the reason it felt so optimistic was that the vast majority of graduating students had found jobs across retail.

M&S’s news last week that it was launching its Make your Mark scheme with the Prince’s Trust to provide 1,400 work experience places for unemployed 16 to 25 year olds was well timed and welcome. Last year’s smaller scheme led to more than 50% of participants being offered full-time positions.

Clearly, it is essential for young people to be offered help and support onto the employment ladder by all businesses.

For retail though, there is perhaps a sense that it is the industry that actually needs the young just as much as they need it. The reason? Maybe retail has reached a far bigger tipping point than had previously been forecast. Most retailers have now accepted that the way people are shopping is changing more radically than ever before.

If that is true, there is also a view that even in this omnichannel world, the old rules of buying and selling remain.

Listening to some veteran retailers musing in private recently, even that is debatable.

They admitted that increasingly they don’t understand what makes the consumer tick.

Digital channels and social media are changing the rules. It feels like we’re seeing the passing of the baton to a new generation of retailers. Which throws into even greater relief the need to attract the best school and college graduates into retail.

  • Ian McGarrigle, Director, World Retail Congress

Topics