Supporting retail workers at risk
Skip to content

Supporting retail workers at risk

Recent news of high street giant Arcadia going into administration is a blow to the retail sector. Alongside reports of household names like Argos and Debenhams changing their business models, this is a difficult time for the retail world and its thousands of employees. From store managers to back-office staff, closing down of these businesses will affect many people working in the sector.

COVID-19 has hit the high street and retail sector hard. With shops being closed for a significant part of the year, and a surge towards online shopping, retailers are struggling to make money from their physical footprint. The ONS reported that even by April 2020, e-commerce had already increased by 10 per cent in comparison to 2019.

Times like this call for swift action from policymakers. Workers at risk of losing their jobs need urgent support to help them find alternative, less risky roles. Hiring across the retail sector was down by 20 per cent in October this year; this is also an opportunity for policymakers to support and advocate for upskilling and retraining, helping to build a more resilient workforce for any future labour market shocks.

Nesta’s work in this area can provide this much-needed support to the 13,000 Arcadia workers who are at risk, along with other retail workers across the sector. Nesta’s CareerTech Challenge has supported the development of 11 online upskilling and retraining platforms which could be critical in supporting retail workers to learn new skills and find new jobs. While these courses can support individuals to develop new skills, the responsibility also lies with employees to adapt roles and create opportunities for the future.

58 per cent of retail workers are women. Digital Mums’ Future Skills Bootcamp is a great option for women and mothers’ affected by the collapse. The free 10-week course teaches digital, social marketing and research skills, developing skills to transition to a different career path. Mums on the course learn as a cohort, collaborate virtually on digital projects and build career confidence with expert coaching from course leaders. The next course starts in mid-January 2021.

Digital Mums Future Skills Bootcamp

Sign up to the free course


There are plenty of more innovative online courses which teach marketing, cybersecurity, English and Maths, and digital workplace skills. All are free and you can read more about them and register.

Better access and communication of skills demands career options are also vital for these workers. Nesta's Mapping Career Causeways project captures the relationships between jobs and their necessary skills, helping sector workers, such as retail assistants, to identify alternative roles that match their skills and are resilient to automation.

The CareerTech Challenge Prize and Open Jobs Observatory are also developing new ways of tracking and communicating skill demand through labour market information. The CareerTech Challenge Prize supports innovators to develop digital advice and guidance platforms using LMI so that retail workers can get access to personalised local and up to date information about career options available to them. The Open Jobs Observatory, once launched, will provide insights from online job adverts, with a focus on the skills being requested by employers. Again, this will support retail workers to understand how their skills match to other career paths.


Emma Selinger

Emma Selinger

Emma Selinger

Assistant Programme Manager

Emma is an Assistant Programme Manager for the CareerTech Challenge.

View profile