My 23-year-old daughter has had three different employers since she graduated only 18 months ago and seen each of them run into trouble – a thoroughly unsettling experience.

My 23-year-old daughter has had three different employers since she graduated only 18 months ago and seen each of them run into trouble – a thoroughly unsettling experience. She’s trying to launch a photography career and now hoping it’ll be fourth time lucky.

She’s become an expert at CVs and interviews and learned some valuable, if painful, lessons about selling herself to potential ‘customers’. But equally, at various times over the last couple of years, she’s been part of the Government’s youth unemployment statistics.    

There are now over a million 16- to 24-year-olds without jobs. But, and there’s a curious symmetry here. There are another million from that same age group who are working – in retail.

Just this week the BRC published UK Retailing: Leading globally, serving locally.

It is the climax of a six-month project that provides comprehensive new evidence on retailers’ actual and potential contribution to growth and jobs.

It makes clear how much worse youth unemployment would be without them giving young people the breaks they need. More than four in 10 new employees taken on by the sector in the last 12 months were aged between 16 and 21. That’s at least 13,500 jobs for this age group. (Assistance welcome, but retail’s already doing all this without asking for Government job subsidies.)    

And 16% of people starting out in retail jobs begin with no formal qualifications. Our research shows we’re providing opportunities for people who would struggle to find them elsewhere and they’re the kind of opportunities on which those young people can build themselves a career.

Because retailers invest in developing their recruits – spending an average £1,275 per employee on training each year – more than the financial sector, more than manufacturing. It’s a big commitment to the future success of retail but also the other sectors some of those people chose to move on to.

The report gives new weight to our campaigning, not least by showing how retailers generate £18bn a year of the Exchequer’s four biggest taxes. That’s a huge sum towards education, welfare benefits and the rest of public spending.  

But we’re also making clear that politicians cannot afford to take any of this for granted.

Overall sales are flatlining, footfall’s down. After years of continuing to create jobs, despite the slowdown, total retail employment has started to fall a little. Retail is not invulnerable.

What we’ve asked the Government for is action – not just statements of intent – that offers support and implements a convincing plan for business-led growth. 

By the time you read this we’ll know how the Chancellor has responded to our calls in his Autumn Statement. The emotional highs and lows of some of my own family tell me how much that matters.

  • Stephen Robertson, Director-General, British Retail Consortium