We must unite to create a professional association to raise retail’s status, says Ian Cheshire.

We must unite to create a professional association to raise retail’s status, says Ian Cheshire.

We all know that retail is an intense, exhilarating and challenging industry that is all about delivering the quality, value and service that can give you the edge over your competitors. Yet there are some areas where retailers are infinitely stronger working together.

Take skills. Across our industry, businesses rely on having the right people with the right skills in the right jobs. These tough times have shown us that this is a must-have, not a nice-to-have; it is a key point of difference between those that succeed and those that fail.

This is precisely why I and many of my peers continue to work closely with the experts at Skillsmart Retail, who can support us to invest in the future skills of the industry.

They have had a major impact by promoting the skills agenda to government and uniting us around the common issue of driving up skills levels in retail.

But despite their success, the work is far from over. Setting a clear agenda for investing in skills for the future remains an essential priority and we must strive to get all retailers and employees to recognise how important this is.

For my part, it’s frustrating that retail is still viewed as a low-skill, low-pay sector. Establishing a professional association for retail could be part of the solution, providing the perfect way to represent our varied skill set to the outside world.

Professional guilds have existed in many industries for centuries because they work; they act as an unquestionable mark of quality and promote their members’ interests.

As staff move around the sector, they can struggle to show prospective employers how talented and, importantly, how qualified they are. A professional association could legitimise and recognise retail skills and show the outside world the breadth of talents needed to work in retail.

It would help to cement retail as a career of choice and help members to develop their careers and hone that portfolio of transferable skills all great retailers have.

The next steps are already under way. Skillsmart Retail has canvassed industry leaders and workers for their opinions and it has become clear that it is something we all want. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Skillsmart Retail 95% of respondents said it was something they wanted and seven in 10 retail employees said, when asked, that the existence of a professional body for retail would make them more likely to stay in the sector. The possible positive effect on retention rates would ensure all retailers benefit.

I said in September last year that there are some areas where we retailers should unite and that skills is one of those areas. Skillsmart Retail is best placed to lead this work on our behalf having already brought together the most competitive of industries on this most challenging of subjects.

With nearly three million employed across the UK, a professional association could make retail a stronger, sustainable and highly skilled proposition for everyone.