Retail is transforming and so is its workforce

Jun 10, 2021
Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services

Retailers have been innovative during the pandemic to meet customers’ needs and the accelerated digital transformation required by buy-online-pickup-in-stores (BOPIS), touchless purchases, curbside pickups, and supply chain inventory issues. Moving forward, workforce upskilling and labor shortages are the top concerns for retailers.

“The pandemic exposed a shortage of digital skills in retailing,” according to a Wall Street Journal article. Workers who were laid off due to restrictions in capacity are rehired, but the jobs they have returned to have changed.

  • Choice Market has to retrain some employees to do product data entry instead of cashiering. Their retraining includes creating detailed drawings of the store layout on the computer to track product locations and inventories.
  • Verizon Communications plans to train its returning employees’ new skills related to 5G technology.
  • Walmart announced giving smartphones to its 740,000 frontline workers to manage their own time schedule, and to provide on-the-spot customer service to shoppers with data on sales, inventory and pricing.

In terms of labor shortage, 90% of local chambers reported businesses facing this challenge according to the US Chamber. Retailers, the third-largest employer in our state, and the food industry are facing such an acute shortage that would make full reopening impossible by June 30. A Seattle Times article and KOMO news reported acute labor shortage statewide and that 46% of employers lack qualified applicants.

Possible reasons for the labor shortage problem include childcare access, workers moved to alternative industries, the additional $300/benefit per week unemployment benefit, and possibly more.

To date, 25 states are scheduled to end supplemental unemployment benefits from the federal government to help businesses struggling to hire employees. Both Vermont and Massachusetts which are not one of the 25 states are restating work search requirements for unemployment benefit recipients. Employment data in these states in the next couple of months will inform whether these measures are effective in reversing the labor shortage concern.

With workforce as the primary concern for retailers and a focus under Washington Retail’s JEDI Initiative launched in 2020, we are looking forward to continuing to share resources and developing partnerships with stakeholders to advance opportunities for retail workers in the near future. Stay tuned!