Retail trade as an arena of inclusion in the labour market

Ragnhild Steen Jensen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

This paper deals with the importance of employment in the retail trade for inclusion in the labour market. The threshold for securing a job in a shop is low compared to many other occupations and industries, and many young people start their careers in retail. The industry recruits many young workers, and has no particular criteria for formal education or work experience upon appointment. Retail work is primarily learned through participation in practical work in the shop, as well as close follow-up by more experienced staff.

The industry is one of few in which employees can still advance to management level based on work experience and without completing a higher education. Shop managers place a strong emphasis on employees’ work ethic and personal characteristics. However, managers also stress that the industry is relatively open and that the threshold for securing a job is not high. In addition, the retail trade is widely used by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) in connection with work training/the work experience scheme.

In the paper, we examine how the retail industry deals with those recruited from NAV on employment initiatives/work experience placements. Is this sector –with experiences form high turnover-rates and on-the-job training of many young employees with little work experience, well-equipped for work training? Or are the characteristics of the sector, including a potential interest from employers in “cheap labour” an obstacle for the kind of employment training NAV supports?

The study observes that the usual method of training used in the industry, through practical work and with close follow-up, also seems to work well in relation to those sent by NAV. However, those on labour market initiatives receive a longer training period, and are more closely followed up during the process. Some prerequisites must be in place to ensure effective inclusion. First, businesses must dedicate sufficient resources to training and following up those on employment initiatives. Second, it is important that the local NAV office and/or the rehabilitation organisation have a close cooperation with the employer. This entails keeping the lines of communication open during the process, as well as understanding the needs and requirements of a job in the retail trade and taking these into account when selecting candidates for practice placements.

The survey is based on qualitative and quantitative data, but focuses mainly on interviews with employers at different levels in four large retail chains.