All paths lead to retail

StylerunnerstoreWhen you started in retail, do you remember making a conscious decision to build a lifelong career in the industry, or did you fall into, and then fall in love, with the profession?

Whichever path you’ve taken to get to where you are today, the Australian retail industry has grown to become an attractive career path, offering significant professional and personal development opportunities.

Although there are notable differences between the retail industry in Australia and other, more mature markets such as the UK, US and Europe, there has been a remarkable shift in recent years. A combination of factors has driven the transformation of the Australian retail landscape, but has arguably been led by increased competition and the influence of technology.

The arrival of major international brands and online channels, in particular, has put pressure on retailers to invest in people, product and processes. The ‘total retail experience’, from store design and digital convergence to customer service and e-commerce, has opened the door for exciting career opportunities across the industry.

What is often regarded as an indicator of a mature industry is there being both a career pathway and a formal education pathway.  The education options in Australia are still in their infancy compared to the UK, for example. In the UK, joining a retail business is all about a natural progression aimed at constantly upskilling and developing people from a young age, with the choice of several possible levels of retail qualification along the way. Retail qualifications are considered a career investment, with study options ranging from internships to a Bachelor Degree in Retail to a Masters in almost every aspect of retail, from Luxury to Automotive to International Fashion Retail.

There are, of course, countless Australian success stories that started out on the shop floor, but those looking to pursue a career in retail today are no longer content doing the ‘hard yards’ when they see exceptional talent parachuted in from more mature markets to take on senior roles. To get ahead, those set on a career in retail are seeing the value tertiary study, in particular retail specific study, and gaining work experience abroad, can add.

The arrival of international retailers over the last few years and the talent that has come over with them has both lifted the skill level of the local retail population, and with it the perception of the retail profession. It has also been a catalyst for professionals in other industries to consider opportunities in the sector.

Where some international retailers have been quick to differentiate themselves is in their approach to what a career in retail means, from raising the bar on education by employing only degree qualified candidates in leadership roles, to providing opportunities for employees to upskill and branch out into other areas of functional responsibility.

What is advantageous from a recruitment perspective is that these organisations are not only actively creating a culture where employees choose to stay and pursue a career, but equally, from an employability perspective, this approach to talent has made these employees highly attractive to other retailers.

Whichever way you’ve made your way into a career in retail, it is up to the industry as a whole to continue to create the important stepping stones through education and fostering talent, so that those considering opportunities in retail at any age or stage, see a clear path for the future.

Richard Wynn is managing partner at FutureYou Executive Recruitment and can be contacted at

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