Guest post – Ron Thurston on how to turn staff shortages into an opportunity

Retailers facing challenges including labour shortages and intense hiring competition should look to invest in the talent they already have, says Ron Thurston, author of ‘Retail Pride – a guide to career development for retail employees’, who explores how to turn staff shortages into an opportunity in our latest guest post.

Ron Thurston, author of Retail Pride

According to the British Retail Consortium, job vacancies between June and August 2021 reached over 1 million for the first time since records began. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the industry lost 89,000 jobs in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the same period a year ago.

In their desperation to find people, some retailers have been offering generous joining bonuses to attract recruits, however, financial reward is just one element in the long term retention of staff. The focus needs to be on finding ways to make retail jobs more appealing to bright, ambitious young people who are looking for a real career.

Part of the answer is a willingness to invest in new technologies and training styles, in order to give workers a sense of true pride in their jobs—and to make retail work both rewarding and desirable.

This process has already begun. Retailers have continued to use video-conferencing for interviews, even though the pandemic is over, simply because it is quick and convenient. And most have made greater use of digital apps so recruits can register and connect with their colleagues. These initiatives are a beginning, but retailers need to go further.

Here are three key areas to explore :

1. Put people at the heart of your business

This is key to building a successful retail team. Regardless of the strength of the retail brand, the quality of its products, or the loyalty of its customers, without an engaged, enthusiastic workforce, everything else will fail.

During a recent YOOBIC webinar I hosted Kevin Cooper, Director of Leadership & Development at restaurant chain BurgerFi shared about the significance of their frontline employees. “The backbone of BurgerFi is having highly motivated and energetic team members, so we have to take care of them to be able to take care of guests and take pride in what they do. We can’t do this without training.

The right approach in training them to do their jobs well shows staff people that they matter and this enables a continuous process of learning and growth throughout their time in the organisation.

The retailers who get this right go beyond face-to-face coaching and use mobile devices and digital tools to bring learning opportunities into associates’ workflows.

2. Empowering employees to become experts

An important way to show that they value their people is for retailers to make it easier for them to do their jobs effectively and deliver amazing service for customers.

That really boils down to sharing information quickly and effectively across your entire team, using engaging tools like mobile videos instead of dull, easily ignored methods like emails and bulletin-board flyers.  If employees have ready access to information, they can make smarter decisions throughout the day.

This also shows associates why certain policies are in place, and the strategic importance of the tasks they’ve been given. As a result, they can carry those tasks out more effectively and start to see their work not as a long list of boring jobs but as vital to the success of their organisation.

3. Create a path for progression

Staff who have opportunities for communication, collaboration, and learning do their jobs better, because they are acknowledged and appreciated for what they do, as opposed to getting bogged down in the same old routine. They then take pride in improving over time, making valued contributions, and happily sharing their knowledge with other staff to help them do better too.

This depends on combining effective tech tools with cultural practices that drive real engagement. Real-time micro-lessons enable peer-to-peer remote mentoring via instant chat or social tools, while information resources can be integrated into workers’ daily routine to make it more fun and engaging.

All these approaches provide staff with the tools and learning opportunities they need to do their jobs better, which in turn gives them pride in their work. Investing in streamlined, engaging training methods and technologies, is a very effective way to demonstrate to staff that they are valued, which then motivates them to develop their retail careers and be their best every day.

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