Entry-Level Retail Jobs Are Demanding More Skills Than Ever

As the retail landscape shifts and traditional jobs get ever scarcer, companies are demanding more and more from their employees — including from entry-level associates, a new study has found.

Workforce analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies examined 25 million job postings on behalf of The Associated Press and found that across all entry-level retail jobs, the number of skills required rose from 2010 to 2016.

Proficiency with new technologies is the most obvious new addition, as cashiers and store associates now commonly wield touchscreen tablets, man mobile-based point-of-sale systems, and assist with self-checkout stations. And while “software developer” may be the fastest-growing job in the industry, these days even sales-floor and warehouse workers are sometimes asked to have experience with customer relations software programs like Salesforce or inventory management systems.

But a more subtle consequence of today’s increasingly connected world — and the rise of e-commerce — is the need for retail employees to engage customers in order to keep them coming back to brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, customer service and communications skills were more prominent on recent job postings for cashiers, sales associates and stockroom clerks, lending credence to the idea that today’s retailers are pushing for experiential retail that offers draws that online shopping can’t match.

While minimum wage increases in some states and cities mean that hourly pay is going up for many of the sector’s lowest-ranking employees, some people who might have been hired for those positions five years ago may no longer qualify. According to the National Skills Coalition, 62 percent of service-sector workers, which includes many entry-level retail jobs, have limited literacy skills, and 74 percent have limited math abilities. On-the-job training and certification courses can help bridge the gap, but for certain would-be employees, it won’t be enough.

That signals a troubling trend for the retail industry. Or as Burning Glass CEO Matt Sigelman put it: “The bottom may be coming out of the career ladder.”

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