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Comment: Utilising apprentices in the retail industry to maintain technological advances

Apprenticeships are evolving, from their origins in the 15th century to today’s modern system; more and more people are choosing to learn on the job rather than spending tens of thousands of pounds on a degree with no definitive direction on where their future lies.

The retail industry’s changed too, despite being branded in the past as a destination for underachievers recent developments in the sector have created a field with a competitive nature for places and a clear progressive structure in place for those entering the industry.

Modern developments in robotic technology have led to a customer base becoming increasingly tech savvy when it comes to self-checkouts and ‘scan as you shop’ advances, the customer of today enters a store expecting to be met by technology on their exit.

There seems to be inevitability in the disappearance of till cashiers sometime in the near future, walk into a supermarket today and you’ll quickly notice the number of self-serve systems manned by bored looking supervisors content with scanning their staff card for every unexpected item. Amazon is taking this one step beyond with its Amazon Go store prototype in Seattle, featuring robotic staff members and as few as three human staff members manning the shop floor.

Professional Academy is an approved provider for retail apprenticeships up to level 3 while also offering a number of courses in other sectors. Founded in 2002 as a business training provider we deliver fully accredited qualifications in marketing, management, and sales to businesses around the world. Following our approval as an apprenticeship provider we will now also be delivering retail, hospitality, marketing, and business related apprenticeships.

We believe that apprentices represent the future of the workplace, and in retail, apprenticeships are booming. As a training provider Professional Academy is determined to help every candidate entering our doors develop their professional lives and ultimately make a difference to your businesses.

Digital natives required…

Without the constant stream of young, digital-native workers it could become easy for smaller stores to fall behind and gain a poor reputation (unless they’re aiming for the vintage look). Finding these workers isn’t hard; it never has been in retail – the number of 16 to 24 year olds leaving education without qualifications remains at a high level.      

The latest report from the Office for National Statistics shows the number of apprentices in the UK is at an all-time high with 899,400 apprentices. There’s an even split in ages with 56% of apprentices under the age of 24 and 44% 25 or older – This could come as a shock to some as the general view of apprenticeships is of a younger person holding the role - 84,000 (16.7%) of these apprentices joined the retail industry last year.

Every industry requires a select few things to maintain themselves, without them the wheels will fall off and the train lay abandoned from a lack of proper maintenance. This is where taking on apprentices can save your organisation, not only are you helping the apprentice grow professionally but in return you receive a motivated, constantly learning employee.

Staff are the backbone of every business around the world, ensuring your team is trained and upskilled regularly can become an expensive endeavour for smaller companies. Most people seem unaware that apprenticeships aren’t just for 16 to 24 year olds, in fact people over this age can, and do, decide to pursue an apprenticeship in order to better their own professional knowledge whilst remaining in work.

Augmented reality (AR) programs will continue to grow in ‘brick and mortar’ stores, innovations such as the AR mirror have been rolled out to make-up chains allowing customers to virtually ‘try-on’ lip sticks and other make-up before buying to see if they suit the person.

Each new technological advancement can make the customer’s journey easier within the store but behind the scenes it’s another puzzle for employees to solve when something goes wrong.  

Apprentices, via their training providers, hold the ability to continuously upskill in a short amount of time. While having an apprentice won’t necessarily keep you on top of the latest technology (only a highly skilled engineer can do this) they can allow you to adapt faster to the changing work environment.  

In the next eight years over 900,000 jobs are estimated to be lost within the Retail Industry as a direct result of greater automation, as we reach this point the need for greater technological skills becomes more and more apparent; Current employees in the industry could look to an apprenticeship as an opportunity to upskill while remaining in the workplace.

Through an apprenticeship individuals have the opportunity to ease into work life without the pressures that holding a university degree present, a support network through both the employer and apprenticeship provider plus the feeling of contributing towards something as you learn.