The future of work; Retail Ireland Skillnet report uncovers digital transformation priorities

Dec 18th, 2020

Industry 4.0, or the digitalisation of work, is the epicentre of what is referred to as the future of work. The digital transformation affects every business in every sector of every economy across the globe leaving business with no choice other than to embrace it as an opportunity or succumb to the challenge. The retail sector is not immune from the digital transformation and on November 12th Retail Ireland Skillnet’s Retail Technologies and Future Skills Report, supported by Skillnet Ireland, was launched by Minister Damien English.

The priorities of retailers

The report, which is the first of its kind for the retail sector for many years, uncovers what retailers are prioritising as part of their digital transformation, it reviews emerging technologies, examines how retail jobs are evolving, and makes recommendations to retailers and education providers.

“The ‘Retail Technologies and Future Skills Report’ provides excellent new insights into the business challenges facing the retail sector and signals how disruptive technologies will impact on the future skills and talent needed by businesses. In partnership with Industry, Skillnet Ireland will work to deliver digital skills to workers in the retail sector to ensure that retail businesses nationwide have access to skilled talent that is needed to drive their business on. We look forward to working with Retail Ireland and Retail Ireland Skillnet on the delivery of many of the recommendations”. Tracey Donnery, Executive Director at Skillnet Ireland

The report finds that over the next five years, all businesses will grapple with fundamental questions relating to the future of work, the workplace and the workforce. Disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and automation will continue to affect how people work and the jobs they do. This will lead to the creation of fewer low-skills Retail positions in the future, while simultaneously generating new and higher skilled jobs.

A prevalent feature of this report and the digitalisation of the economy is the heightened importance of soft skills, or high-touch skills. How these skills merge and augment with technology, such as AI, will be critical for the successful transition of the sector. As technology takes over the more mundane elements of every role, greater emphasis will be placed on humans to problem solve, adapt, critically analyse and create. These uniquely human skills are ones that cannot be replicated by technology, and they are skills that are growing in importance in the retail sector.

Developing the talent of the retail sector

According to the report’s findings the sector must ensure that talent is developed appropriately to fill the new roles, and further develop and adapt existing roles. Retailers need to proactively invest in upskilling and continually develop their people, identify clear progression pathways, and promote careers in retail collectively as a sector. The attraction and retention of talent is vital to help ensure that the retail sector has the skills on talents to thrive, now, and in the future.

“The report provides a comprehensive and timely insight into these underlying technological trends reshaping Irish retail. The pressing challenge is to cultivate, develop and align the skills, talent and innovation that exists in our people and our organisations, in a way that embraces new opportunities and new ways of working. This will require additional investment in our people and the development of new career path. Businesses that get it right will be the ones that succeed in a retail environment increasingly shaped by digital innovation”. Arnold Dillon, Director of Retail Ireland

Transition to industry 4.0

This report does an excellent job in identifying the future skills needed but also in articulating how these challenges will be met by the Retail sector businesses in close collaboration with employees, educators, trainers, academics and bodies like Retail Ireland, Retail Ireland Skillnet and Skillnet Ireland.

We have seen from the last few months just how important the retail sector is to the Irish economy and to the Irish people. Retailers need to accept that technology is going to have an increasingly greater impact on their business in the coming years and COVID-19 has accelerated this. By working together, we can ensure the transition to industry 4.0 productive for all stakeholders in the retail community.

According to Roisin Woods, research author, The future challenge for retailers is keeping pace with changing consumer behaviours and the unequivocal reliance on technology.  Technological adoption and innovation is not a choice but a necessity. The report uncovers what retailers are prioritising as part of their digital transformation, it reviews emerging technologies, examines how retail jobs are evolving, and makes recommendations to retailers and education providers.

Co-author Dr. Oran Doherty, adds, In addition to discussing the key technologies impacting the retail sector, we also wanted to investigate the implications of these technologies on skills and careers. The report reviews the skills required to perform effectively in the modern retail environment and makes recommendations to employers, and education and training providers in addressing these skills.

Skillnet Ireland would like to congratulate everyone in Retail Ireland Skillnet including Network Manager Sean Carlin and authors Róisín Woods and Dr. Oran Doherty for the important work they have undertaken over the past 18 months in bringing this report to fruition. Skillnet Ireland welcomes this report and supports its recommendations.

Learn more

For more information on Retail Ireland Skillnet and the innovative training they provide visit their website directly

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