In a 21st Century Workforce, Flexibility is Key

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In a 21st Century Workforce, Flexibility is Key

By Jim McCoy, Melissa Hassett, and Evan Armstrong - 10/17/2017
As the nation’s largest private sector employer, retail supports 42 million American jobs. Retail is unique in that it offers more opportunity with a lower barrier to entry than virtually any other industry. Employees seeking their first job, a second chance or a long-lasting career will find a path towards upward mobility through retail employment.

Attracting and engaging talent is vital to the retail ecosystem. Twenty-four percent of retail candidates are students and one in three is a young millennial between 18 and 24 years old. Retail candidates are also more likely than average to be Baby Boomers. As these age groups are balancing school, family and personal life, the key to appealing to and retaining top talent may rely on flexibility.

According to new research from ManpowerGroup Solutions, approximately a quarter of retail candidates (23 percent) want the part-time work that retail provides. They also value schedule flexibility. Unlike other industries where compensation is ranked as the top motivator, retail candidates rank type of work and schedule flexibility as the top two reasons they seek retail employment.

As retailers look to attract and retain talent, there are three areas of focus that can help them entice potential candidates.

Choice in shifts is important
Whether balancing schoolwork, caregiving, volunteering, a second career or simply life’s frequent curveballs, today’s retail candidates value choosing their own shift schedule. As opportunities to participate in the gig economy increase, retailers will be competing for employees with companies like Uber and Lyft. The ability to turn work on and off is one of the characteristics that make being an Uber or Lyft driver appealing.

Retail candidates are almost twice as likely to prefer the ability to choose their own shift schedule — 31% versus 18% among U.S. candidates. The ability to work compressed shifts or a shortened work week is also a key focal point.

Retail employers can look to the restaurant industry for lessons learned. In many restaurants, trading shifts is now automated through apps that empower employees to manage their own schedule and ensure managers of shift coverage. Even smaller initiatives can make a difference; shifts can be timed to coincide with school drop-off and pickup or weekend shifts for students can be streamlined through an app.

Look in new places but respond quickly
Retail candidates, in particular, want to apply for jobs via apps on their smartphones. Over half (53%) of candidates asked are willing to apply via an app. Students who often applied to colleges using universal applications now expect the same when applying for a job. Apps that facilitate applications appeal to the one-click ordering mindset.

However, retailers don not have to reinvent the wheel. Employers can tap into existing apps specifically targeted for retail workers and must be prepared to respond. Candidates who apply for jobs via mobile apps, also tend to apply for more jobs. The employer who responds first often responds best as candidates expect to engage quickly. Failure to be responsive erodes employer brand and customer loyalty.

Collaborate for talent
Companies growing their part-time workforce can benefit from new talent communities, such as innovative collaborative hiring systems. Collaborative hiring is especially useful for retailers, where seasonal needs are predictable. Sharing talent pools with other companies can mitigate risk, reduce costs and increase agility.

Technologies, such as WorkMyWay.com, offer companies with similar profile needs a single career portal. Candidates leverage their skill sets across employers and decide where they want to work. Companies with strong employer brands will have a new way to pool qualified talent for the exact right time of need, and smaller companies will benefit from being associated with larger names.

As retail continues its transformation and moves towards appealing to a modernized workforce, targeted outreach, a good candidate experience, a strong employer brand and a willingness for creativity will make a significant difference. Understanding candidate preferences is critical. Today’s employees are looking for the power to choose a schedule that meets their individual needs. Employees are among the most powerful assets retailers have in a changing marketplace and flexibility may hold the key towards keeping pace with today’s 21st century workforce.

Jim McCoy is global practice leader, ManpowerGroup Solutions; Melissa Hassett is VP, client delivery, ManpowerGroup Solutions; and Evan Armstrong is VP, government affairs, Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

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