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The Future of Jobs in Retail: Mitesh Patel Attends the BRC Conference

The discussion around the future of British retail raises questions that the nation has never been faced with before. Historically, retail has always been centered around High Streets and markets, but this has changed dramatically over recent years. Hard times and austerity have seen many well-known High Street shops close their shutters for good, while cheaper prices and the convenience of shopping online have led to a huge boom in internet sales. It’s estimated that by 2016, 23% of all retail in the UK will be online*. This will have a huge impact on jobs in British retail.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is at the forefront of this discussion. The BRC committee hosts events where retailers, both large and small, are invited to share their views and concerns over the future of British commerce with MPs. The purpose of these events is to give those involved a chance to share their personal experiences, and to stimulate the debate over what measures need to be taken to protect those who work in retail across the UK.

Mitesh Patel, the founder of Lenstore, was invited to join the conversation at a recent meeting at the Google Headquarters in London. As a small but fast growing e-commerce start up there was much to contribute – particularly when the topic turned to employment.

Unquestionably, one of the major causes for concern is that many local communities rely heavily on UK High Streets to provide jobs, in particular for the under 25 age group. Rising rent prices combined with a lower footfall to shopping areas and the rise of e-commerce have meant that more brick and mortar shops are closing their doors, and many valuable jobs are being lost. Although new employment can be found in online retail, providing customer service on a shop floor requires a very different skill set to maintaining an e-commerce website. It is this sudden shift in desirable skills and knowledge that was a major cause for concern at the BRC meeting.

As an e-commerce business, Lenstore has seen this issue first-hand. Web developers are in relatively high demand, and it can be a challenge to find the right developer for a company because of the unique training and expertise required for the role. However on the flip side, there are many people with vast experience in customer services, but fewer jobs available in e-commerce for them. Lenstore is a fast growing start up, whose expanding workforce has a diverse background of talents and skills – from warehouse operations to developers, and from customer services to marketing.

This variety of skills is one of the reasons Lenstore has been able to grow throughout the recession. But the benefits of creating a diverse workforce lie deeper than that. The Lenstore team are all housed under one roof, which provides an opportunity for skills to be learned and transferred across individuals in different departments in a way that hasn’t always been possible in High Street retail.

The predicted growth of online shopping in the UK could mean that there will be more jobs becoming available working for online stores in the future. If this is to be the case, it seems likely that one future focus for the BRC will be the provision of education and training to teach these new skills.

*According to information presented by the BRC.