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Reskilling and Upskilling the Retail Workforce for the Post-Pandemic World

A new three-part series from Disprz analyzes the full continuum of the retail industry’s digital talent transformation.  

In the first part, we talked about the new ‘phygital‘ era in retail, the role of digital transformation in simplifying the onboarding process and creating a learning mindset early on, and driving data to get predictive analytics and insights into employees’ performance potential, engagement, and retention. [Read the article here]

Moving on to the next part of the employee life cycle – After successful onboarding, how do we create a continuous learning experience embedded in the flow of work that maximizes employees’ potential and improves the organization’s performance?

To answer that, let’s dive into the future of work for retail employees!

The Indian retail industry has undergone a significant transformation over the last decade and has emerged as one of the most fast-paced industries. Retail was one of the most severely affected sectors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it a tricky playground for talent. All the stakeholders felt its ripple effects in the value chain. After incurring losses of about ₹90,000 crores during the lockdown, to build competency, resilience, and drive value, CHROs are reimagining and implementing innovative personnel practices such as these: 

  • Optimizing workforce planning and strategy, reassessing roles with a focus on tech-savvy talent who can perform better in a predominantly digital workplace
  • Increasing flexibility for employees with underlying health conditions. Institute rules requiring employee temperature checks, establishing new deep-cleaning procedures, and encouraging sick workers to stay home. 
  • Changing the company’s standard attendance and leave policies to adopt a more generous and flexible paid-time-off system combining sick and vacation days. 
  • Implementing fully-digital processes for onboarding new hires
  • Expanding digital training methods. Realigning the workforce to focus on digital and retraining employees to adapt to new ways of working. 

Challenges faced by the CHRO: 

  • Talent acquisition: The retail space’s high-attrition challenge is replaced by the need to acquire the right talent as companies decide which staffers to bring back and when amid an uncertain revenue flow. HR leaders must get staffing levels right in the face of suddenly lower customer demand and online retailers’ rising dominance. 
  • Employee engagement: With low job prospects, monotony, and demanding work schedules, it is quite challenging to keep the frontline staff motivated and engaged. The employees are uncertain of their growth prospects beyond four to five years. In addition to a severe lack of salary growth, there is also little opportunity to move to other sectors.
  • Shortage of trained workforce across levels: The demand for employment is not matched by the workforce’s educational qualifications and skill levels. Currently, most of the employed workforce in retail is at Secondary or below academic level. This scarcity of trained workforce in the industry results in heavy investments in training entry-level employees.
  • Lack of essential skills desired in retail employees includes understanding regional etiquettes and the highly-personalized customer experience. Workforce hired during high seasonality often lacks the required skill set. Given the vast geographical, regional, and cultural differences in different cities and countries, standardizing quality processes is imperative.
  • Retaining talent: Over 90% of India’s retail market workforce is unorganized and struggles with high attrition as a consistent trait. Companies heavily invest in getting raw talent trained and job-ready, and every attrition results in a business loss. 
  • The Talent Scarcity Paradox: Evolving talent sources despite innovations in talent acquisition, increased mobility, and world sourcing, demand still exceeds supply in many areas–with analytical thinking, inspirational leadership, and a global mindset topping the list of in-demand skills. Overall, the interest in working in the retail industry appears to be low. 

This is in addition to coping with the fast-changing trends and economic pressures, such as increasing wages, the rise of e-tailers, etc. Retailers understand the importance of managing, skilling, and retaining talent to remain competitive in an evolving global scenario. 

The answer to this perennial problem lies in a more human approach towards the frontline staff, understanding their needs and providing them sustainable career prospects.

Agile HR: Attracting and Retaining Talent in times of crisis

Talent management post-COVID will be a lot about focusing on employee health and wellbeing, providing a seamless workforce experience, and above all, independent management of the workforce for the future. Another critical focus area for organizations this year will be about building capabilities in the workforce to embrace the future. 

Skilling is changing the world of retail and shaping the future of work. Upskilling to help the workforce remains critical; however, as the marketplace takes a digital route with the full-fledged comeback of physical stores remaining unclear, employers must reimage roles and retrain the workforce in the evolving retail space.

Retailers who adopt technology advancements to their business needs in a customized manner can thrive in this fiercely competitive market. Top talent is becoming scarce, and retailers are now applying analytics to understand their employees better.  They are using technology like analytics builder to get insights into learner’s behaviour and usage patterns. 

The COVID-19 crisis has led CHROs to consider the effects of significant workforce transitions and the role that reskilling plays in helping close these talent gaps. In the post-pandemic world, learning goes beyond reskilling. CHROs need to create encompassing ecosystems around learning, collaboration, and a feedback mechanism directly linked to employee engagement and performance. As a preferred employment choice, retail demands that organizations portray a clear perception of the employer brand, promoting their strengths and values.

Learning in the flow of work (a few examples)

Our customer – an Inspired Indian Bistro, Fabcafe – is an all-day dining cafe spread across North India. The cafe aims to create a unique and delightful experience for its customers through an evolving menu and excellent customer service. The challenges with delivering innovative ‘wow’ customer experiences demanded talent that is more aligned with agility, speed, and responsiveness than historical experience, depth, and ability to optimize. 

How did this unique dining cafe chain seek, hire, reward, and develop talent based on a very different set of attributes to deliver a personalized customer experience? 

Before meeting Disprz, learning at Fabcafe was completely manual and time-consuming. Trainers had to travel to each region for functional training for kitchen workers and soft skills training for the frontline staff. To remain competitive and agile, they needed a platform that supports quick creation, delivery, and consumption of on-the-job training material.

Fab cafe partnered with Disprz for the digital learning journey and platform that accelerates learning flow and makes continuous learning a core value. Employees are highly driven and motivated to learn in less time as they can track the impact on performance. They are able to significantly improve their productivity by just logging into their mobile device for a half-hour learning session each day. 

Disprz’s platform also strives to reduce employee retention. Providing and receiving constant feedback is critical to engaging employees and keeping them on track. The platform’s continuous feedback mechanism coaxes managers to provide immediate feedback to the learners; with the platform’s help, they have achieved 94% classroom completion and 80% self-paced courses. The kitchen and the service staff are frequent users of the platform and have found it incredibly beneficial to stay ahead of the curve. 

More Retail One of the top pioneers in the food and grocery retail in India also trusted Disprz for cultivating a culture of continuous learning. From onboarding to performance management, Disprz played a significant role as a complete skilling solution for More Retail. 

It helped them upskill and reskill their frontline workforce to make them more agile for addressing various challenges in the post-pandemic world. With Disprz they could bring all the distributed workforce spread across different cities on one single platform to provide continuous opportunities for learning and growth. They could focus on strengthening foundational skills and even developing new skills for the changing business environment. 

Preparing the retail workforce for the future of work:

To truly engage the workforce, enable them to perform their role more efficiently, and build a better work-life balance, employers need to create an excellent digital experience via self-service training, HR tools, and modern-day technologies. Moreover, craft a clear career path with focused goal-setting and performance management reviews that enable employees to identify areas of improvement that will help them level up and grow their careers. 

As retail employees have clearly defined weekly and monthly metrics, goals, objectives, and high-pressure KPIs, we at Disprz have created a system where KPIs are connected to individual learning areas that enable employers to frequently check their KPIs and convey key performance highlights to the manager. The platform also intelligently identifies areas for growth and assigns a learning area to each employee based on their role.

Preview Disprz, to experience this high-end tool in action. 

We hope you liked the article! We’ll demonstrate how a popular retailer used our platform to drive outstanding business performance powered by data in our next post. Stay tuned!

About the author:

Shweta is the Chief Learning Architect at Disprz and has expertise in OD, Change Management and Leadership Development

Prior to this she was CEO of OD Alternatives. In her 22 years of experience, she has worked with clients and companies in India, Africa, Middle East, Latin America in the areas of organizational transformation, team capability enhancement, leadership development and culture change, in her prior roles – with organizations such as Hewitt, Arthur Andersen, White Spaces Consulting, Naspers, Honeywell, Motorola and Intel.

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