by Cameron Macht and Brent Pearson
While it doesn’t enjoy the same workforce and economic development focus that the larger health care and manufacturing industries do, retail trade is a popular employment option because it offers flexible work conditions, a variety of challenges, has regular vacancies, and accommodates many kinds of skills.
In 2012 there were 173,371 jobs across all industries in the 23-county Southwest Minnesota region. Of those, 20,095 jobs were in retail trade, making it the third largest employing industry in the region. Retail trade provides about 11.6 percent of total employment in Southwest Minnesota. With its large number and consistent availability of jobs, retail trade’s impact on the workforce of Southwest Minnesota cannot be overstated. In addition to current demand, employment in retail remained relatively stable over the past five years, despite the recession.
Because retail jobs, like retail salespersons, are in constant demand throughout the region, they can be great for workers looking for flexible work schedules, fast-paced work environments, easy to learn job skills through short-term on-the-job training, and opportunities for advancement or job mobility. However, jobseekers might not find opportunities in the industry quite as great if they desire full-time hours, higher wages, or benefits.
Over the course of the last six years, during both the recession and the recovery, retail trade has maintained a higher reliance on part-time workers and seasonal hiring than the total of all industries. On average, about 42.5 percent of all job vacancies in the region were part-time compared to 73.9 percent of retail vacancies. Likewise, wage offers in retail trade were always lower than in other industries, settling between $7.00 and $8.00 per hour from 2007 to 2011, before climbing to $9.00 in 2012. While wages are important, many jobseekers now consider benefit packages to be equally important in evaluating the net worth of a job.
Given the flexibility of the industry from higher amounts of part-time employment and seasonality, retailers have come to rely on two key age groups for workers — under 25 and over 55 years of age. Essentially, jobs in retail trade afford high school and college students, as well as older or retired workers looking for part-time work, an opportunity to participate in the labor force in a flexible work environment. During the recession and recovery, it also provided an alternative for people seeking to retain employment between jobs, after a layoff, immediately following college, or after retiring from a career. And though technology will change the job requirements, demand for the jobs will likely remain strong in the future.