Survey: Finding Tech-Smart Talent a Tough Task for Retailers

Finding employees with the right functional competencies continues to be a challenge for retailers, according to a survey by SAP. In an environment where the ability to understand and manage technology and data is increasingly in demand, retailers are worried about filling management positions with employees that have the strategic skillsets needed.

Retailers see a need for functional competencies leaning toward technology and data skills, even more than general business and people management. But the survey revealed that 84 percent of retailers are worried that it will be challenging to find employees with these skills. Exacerbating the problem is the overall hiring trend: 93 percent of survey respondents said hiring will not decrease over the next two to three years.

"If you look at the consumerization of IT via mobile devices, it's an interesting market for retailers," says Mark Ledbetter, global vice president, Retail Industry Business Unit, SAP. "They're not the first to adopt technology — they're being propelled into in this area, which is driven heavily by Millennials.

"When you consider the marketing and IT organizations within retail, they typically haven't been on the front edge of engagement in things like social networking," Ledbetter continues. "They're there now because they have to be but they didn't go running into the building as the flames were starting to build."

Many merchants lack trained personnel in their marketing departments who are used to utilizing digital tools, such as leveraging mobile devices to drive the brand's interaction with consumers, Ledbetter notes, and the lack of Big Data scientists in the industry likely contributes to retailers' slow progress in executing Big Data projects.

When asked to specify which skills are in high demand, retailers indicate they are focused on filling management-level roles that have a strategic impact on the business, such as:
  • Understanding and applying business analytics and big data in retail (80 percent)
  • Optimizing the retail business for omni-channel commerce (72 percent)
  • Analyzing consumer buying behavior for improved operations (55 percent)
Within these functional competencies, 97 percent of the retailers surveyed are aware of the challenge of finding and training employees for new skillsets. Retailers plan to approach this challenge using a mix of activities. The majority, 75 percent, plan to hire new people from outside the organization to fill these roles, if they can find them. More than half said they plan to use in-house educational resources or organically develop new skills through experience and training. And, 53 percent plan to offer external education opportunities to current employees to improve skills.

To attract the right talent when top tech companies such as Google and Facebook also are looking for professionals with these skillsets, retailers would be wise to work on promoting an image as an interesting and forward-thinking industry, Ledbetter says.

"Retail is a great industry," he adds. "It's for people who are willing to be aggressive and take chances from a management and IT perspective to be able to blaze the path and set the trail.

"We need to get out the word that retail will reward those types of professionals," Ledbetter explains.

In addition to the skills mentioned above, retailers also prioritize experience with mobile commerce management (50 percent), merchandise buying/planning (37 percent), and digital and social branding skills (37 percent).

SAP surveyed 76 retail managers from top retail brands during the SAP Retail Forum North America in Dallas, Texas, which was attended by retailers including Zappos, PGA Tour Superstore, Luxottica, eBay, Sports Basement and Shane Company.
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