|Sources of vacancies|
A career in retail presents a wealth of opportunities to graduates, both in terms of the available job roles and the diversity of employers. The retail sector in the UK is large, accounting for almost 8% of GDP and employing in the region of 3 million people. This sector is susceptible to the vagaries of the economic climate but despite recent challenges, it is still expected to increase in size by over 15% over the next 5 years. Graduate training programmes are offered by the majority of large retailers; less formal training opportunities also exist with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
AGCAS, the professional body for higher education careers advisory services, has produced Industry Insight for Retail, which provides an overview of what it is like to work in this area.
Work experience is critical both in terms of improving your employment prospects but also in terms of helping you to decide which aspects of retail most interest you (e.g. food, technology, merchandising, buying, general management etc). The Skillsmart Retail website is an excellent resource with to begin researching the diversity of careers. There are some excellent graduate opportunities in the retail sector in a variety of different organizations but competition is high. Undertaking some form of retail experience, whether it be a structured internship or temporary employment, will improve your competitiveness.
Most retailers have vacation jobs that students can fill; any experience or part-time employment in a retail, sales or customer service environment (e.g. college shop, local newsagents) will be useful. In some cases retail employment with a smaller employer can be of greater worth as there is likely to be more opportunity to get involved in a range of tasks: buying, marketing, finance and sales. This is unlikely to be offered to you while doing a casual job with a large retailer. That said it is always useful to ask for broader experience, even if it is just a chat with a trainee manager. If you are interested in a specific facet of retail (e.g. fashion, food, technology etc) it is useful to tailor your experience accordingly.
The charity sector can provide voluntary experience in respect of retail. Organisations such as Oxfam, Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s, Marie Curie and the Red Cross regularly look for volunteers to work in retail outlets but also within regional head quarters.
Some large retailers, such as ASDA, offer structured summer internships which can lead to offers of employment. Typically, formal internships are aimed primarily at students in their penultimate year; closing dates can be as early as December and January! The internships last 8-12 weeks; they are usually salaried and involve structured, project based work. Opportunities are advertised via our vacancy service, which is available through the Careers Centre website, but also through the main graduate careers websites such as Prospects, Target Jobs and Milkround. It is feasible to undertake work experience with SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) through the ‘Step’ programme. A further option is to approach organisations speculatively with a persuasive CV and covering letter. The Retail Week website provides a useful directory of retail organisations; some of these organisations will offer structured work experience opportunities.
Longer term placements (6-12 months) are more commonly available in the retail sector but are usually undertaken as an integrated part of academic study (e.g. sandwich degree). Examples of organizations offering placements include Tesco, Marks & Spencer, ASOS and Boots.
Vacancies in retailing occur across the country. Mobility is a strong feature of employment in this area and most graduate employers will expect you to be willing to relocate to other areas of the country during your career. Some retailers, such as Harrods, are based only in one location but, depending on the job role, mobility, or at least travel, may still be required. Other retailers, Fenwick for example, recruit on a store by store basis and thus convey greater geographical choice. Flexibility and willingness to work weekends and evenings is another feature of this industry, especially in store management.
Some of the larger companies in this sector offer structured training programmes, Retail management training schemes tend to last between 1 and 3 years and often include experience in several outlets or departments as part of the programme of professional development. The Target Jobs guide to retail is a useful starting point with which to research graduate schemes; also refer to Prospects and Milkround. Current vacancies are also advertised on the Careers Centre website.
Although most of the graduate vacancies advertised by recruiters are in areas closely related to retail (store management, buying and merchandising), there is also a spread of non-retail vacancies in areas such as information technology and finance. Some employers have separate recruitment schemes for these areas. Career paths vary between one retailer and another and their terminology is not always clear. 'Merchandising' and 'buying', for example, are terms which can equate to different jobs in different companies. You therefore need to read recruitment literature carefully. Buying and merchandising has traditionally been the remit of graduates who have gained experience in store management and moved into this field. Since the late 1980's, a number of schemes for direct entry into Buying/Merchandising have been established. Tesco, Fenwick, ASDA, John Lewis and Arcadia Group represent a small selection of companies offering such graduate opportunities.
Closing dates can be as early as November and December in your final year for some graduate retail schemes. Similarly, the deadlines for internship opportunities can be as early as December in your penultimate year. The key is to think as far ahead as possible, both in terms of gaining appropriate experience and developing your understanding of the retail sector. Using the network contacts that we have in the Careers Centre and attending appropriate employer presentations is a useful starting point.
In addition to structured graduate training schemes, it is worth also considering other positions within the retail sector. By this I am referring to entry or assistant level roles. Opportunities of this nature can provide an excellent means for a graduate to obtain a ‘foot in the door’, particularly in respect of more niche areas such as buying and merchandising. In this respect, ‘The Appointment’ magazine, available in the information room, has adverts and useful articles concerning the retail industry.The ‘Retail Careers’ website advertises vacancies in many areas of the retail industry. ‘Retail Week’ is an invaluable source of retail careers news in addition to its job postings. Further sources of employment opportunities are the specialist retail recruitment agencies; refer to the Recruitment Employment Confederation website for further details.
The following are useful websites for finding vacancies within the retail sector.
Postgraduate study is not essential for a career in the retail sector: it is an area in which there are established training programmes for graduates. However, postgraduate study options are available that will enhance employment prospects particularly in specific areas of retail, such as fashion and food, or within particular functions such as marketing, buying, merchandising and logistics.
Further information on postgraduate courses can be found on the Prospects and FindaMasters websites. Research the courses on offer before you apply - don't assume that they are all the same particularly as the retail sector is so diverse. It is vital to approach admissions tutors at an early stage to establish specific entry requirements. Courses that are very specific (e.g. fashion buying) may require relevant experience and/or academic study. There are no absolute deadlines for postgraduate courses in this field but it is recommended that you apply early.
In addition to HE institutions, there are other organizations that deliver relevant retail courses at a range of academic levels. The National Skills Academy Retail provides details on different types of learning and training opportunities including short courses. The Fashion Retail Academy offers a range of full-time and short courses in respect of the fashion retail industry.