Retailers are tapping different and more local sources for new recruits, finds Rebecca Thomson

With unemployment now standing at just under 2.5 million and public sector job cuts causing more problems for some areas of the UK, retail is one area increasingly relied upon to keep providing jobs. Several retailers are stepping up to the challenge, working to provide a range of opportunities for unemployed people.

Matalan is one, having opened up its interview process to people without retail experience in Crawley, ahead of its new store opening in August. It has committed 75 interview slots, out of a total of 230, to local unemployed people as it prepares to open its new store in the town. Between 80 and 100 new sales assistants will be taken on when the store opens in August and the company is opening eight this year in total.

The 75 interviewees will have all been through the Skillsmart Retail Works pre-employment programme, through the Central Southeast Skills Shop, which is part of the National Skills Academy for Retail’s nationwide network of retail skills shops. The programme is aimed at long-term unemployed people who are keen to work but haven’t had the opportunity and teaches candidates basic retail skills.

Matalan says that working with Retail Works has helped it to engage with the community as well as finding good candidates. Matalan talent and recruitment manager Kevin Hollingworth says he wanted to try different ways of recruiting for new stores. “We had a way of doing it that we’ve always done, and it worked, but this opens up new opportunities for anybody who hasn’t worked in retail before.” As well as giving people training, Retail Works selects people who it thinks will fit in with Matalan’s values and Hollingworth said he hopes the scheme will not only reduce turnover in the first 12 months but also help find new talent.

“We know that there are plenty of people who have the passion to work for a fashion retailer, good communications skills and the potential to offer excellent customer service, but have not worked in retail before. Through this scheme we can access these individuals,” says Hollingworth.He adds the company is keen to strengthen its links with the community when it opens new stores. “Retail is the only growing sector in the UK at the minute and we should consider how we can help the community.”

The Retail Works programme has trained more than 20,000 people since it started in January 2009 and Hollingworth says he thinks working with the organisation will be worth it. And with unemployment continuing to be a problem, tackling it will help both retailers and the communities they work in.

Matalan and Skillsmart

  • Matalan is looking for between 80 and 100 staff for its new Crawley store and will be interviewing 230 people
  • 75 places will be reserved for candidates from the Skillsmart Retail Works programme
  • Matalan says the scheme helps it engage with the local community, as well as finding good candidates who haven’t had the chance to work in retail before. It also expects the scheme to reduce turnover by finding people who are right for the job