Your Guide to the OC&C Blueprint Report: Which Jobs in Fashion Need Filling?

OC&C Blueprint Report


Here at the FRA, our lives always revolve around fashion. But this week took it to new heights: London Fashion Week has been all over our newsfeeds once again, and in addition we just published our ground-breaking new report in partnership with OC&C Strategy Consultants. Fast Forwarding Fashion: Skills for the Future, it not only reveals the state of the fashion retail industry today, but also the phenomenal demand for specific skillsets.

The fashion industry is always changing, and here’s the evidence. Our report is based on findings gathered from speaking to many of the major high street brands in the UK fashion industry, and is packed full of need-to-know statistics about where the sector is heading and, most importantly, the jobs in fashion which are going to be available in coming years. Read on to discover some of the main findings from the report, and what they mean for your future career in fashion.

Technology has changed everything

In recent years, there has been a steady shift towards digital in almost every industry. It should come as no surprise that fashion has been moving in the same direction. Just think about how much time you personally spend shopping and making purchases online, either on your laptop, mobile or tablet. It’s worth noting that this is not a one-off trend – digital is here to stay, and the shift to online retailing will only become more pronounced as time goes on.

This has meant that retailers have had to pull their focus away from bricks and mortar stores, in order to create and refine digital strategies to make themselves competitive in the online space. We now have more ways to interact with our favourite brands than ever before, and they have even more ways of speaking to – and selling to – us. We expect more, and even become frustrated if our favourite retailer isn’t available and delivering consistent content on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

While this creates some huge opportunities, there comes the inevitable adjustment period in which retailers have to get savvy. They also have to be quick to reform strategy and use data to meet customer expectations. In order to do so, retailers need to be brave enough to step away from their more traditional roots, and start acting like smart technology companies. The businesses which fail to do this are the ones who will struggle.

And with this new way of thinking, comes the requirement for a new set of skills. In fact, our report predicts that retailers will need to fill a whopping 50,000 – 60,000 new roles before 2020. So what skills do you need to have to ensure that you’re in the running?

Analytics, Digital and Social Media

Social media has never been so important for fashion retailers. Our report found that 72% of people would now like to shop directly from social media, and that 58% of people aged between 18 and 24 have bought something after seeing it on social media. This shift in buying habits is only going to become more pronounced. 87% of retailers believe that the rise of social media will significantly change how they operate, and a whopping £15bn of revenue is said to be attributed to social referrals in 2015 alone.

However, these days, simply having an Instagram account is no longer enough. Retailers are becoming increasingly creative – and competitive – when it comes to keeping customers engaged online. Content creation is incredibly important, so having an in-house social media team is now of prime importance. “The social media team need to constantly create content to make sure the consumers regularly engage with the brand and eventually drives sales,” one retailer told us.

As a case in point, ASOS has four million fans on Facebook, and interacts with them every day through various forms of diverse content. However, ASOS is the exception rather than the rule. A lot of retailers and chains simply don’t understand these platforms as a new form of advertising. Therefore, people with social media experience coupled with a commercial mind-set to properly monetise efforts are in high demand.

Social media has led to the creation of a number of necessary new roles. Here are just some of the positions you might expect to see when applying for a digital position with a fashion retailer:

  • Vlogger
  • Social Media Copywriter
  • Blogosphere Manager
  • Digital Merchandiser
  • Digital Content Executive

The management of web properties is one of the most pronounced needs of the fashion industry right now. E-commerce has of course changed the way we shop, and has therefore had a profound and irreversible impact on the physical stores on the high street. It’s even said that content creation is now just as important as product creation, so this is a very exciting niche in which to start your career. UK Retailers are planning to spend an estimated 22% of their budget on social media in the next five years (up from the current 9%), so if you’re super on Snapchat and terrific on Twitter, it’s well worth considering digital marketing as a career path.

Analytical roles

There’s a lot of competition between online retailers. This has made the need for constant analysis of efforts and innovation in order to drive revenue even more pressing. Data Scientists, User Interface Engineers and Software Engineers are required to collect, understand and build algorithms from available data.

What with internationalisation and the growing complexity of business, brands also have to be faster on their feet than ever before and need employees who can perform multi-functionally. Flexibility, communication and quick decision-making will all be skills highly prized by tomorrow’s retailer.

Merchandising and Buying roles

A lack of understanding of what comes with a merchandising or buying role is not new, and these positions are only set to become more technical. The report estimates that 8,000 – 10,000 people will need to be recruited into merchandising and buying roles over the next five years.

The fight for talent

Despite the obvious need for digitally savvy and analytical candidates, many retailers are struggling to find and hire candidates with the right skills. “The retailers’ hiring struggle is very real. The industry is changing at a breakneck speed, but the pool of skilled candidates ready to step up to the challenge simply isn’t there,” states Michael Jary, Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, and co-author of the new report.

Knowledge of newer and more complex roles is not widespread, and candidates just aren’t applying for certain roles. Particularly difficult to fill are technical, digital and analytical positions.

This is believed to be due to gaps in knowledge about the different jobs on offer, and the fact that many interested in fashion are seeking more well-known and glamorous roles rather than technical ones. This poses a unique problem; fashion retailers will increasingly compete for the same pool of candidates.

While it may sound great to have retailers fighting over you, this causes a bigger issue within the industry itself. If there aren’t enough qualified candidates aware of these roles and getting hired, it may force some retailers out of the race, leading to an unbalanced competitive environment and stagnation as innovation slows.

Therefore, more education is needed on the skills required, and there’s also a necessity to overcome the stigma associated with a career in retail. “At the moment there is a bias against retail – people assume it’s not a serious career. We need to re-educate people on that,” one retailer stated. Such re-education is essential when tempting individuals from other disciplines to fill roles.

So what happens next?

To help get candidates into these increasingly important roles, there needs to be more widespread education available of exactly what fashion career options are available. If you’re not sure what retail career is for you, then you can look forward to our “Retail Reimagined” launch, which will see the FRA and Fashion Industry work together to communicate what Fashion Retail has to offer. In addition, here at the FRA we are keen to upskill those already in the fashion industry through new and existing courses, based on the imminent needs of the industry.

Filling the job gaps in the fashion retail sector will need to be a team effort. Firstly, retailers need to be quick in hiring those with analytical and digital skills in order to beat the competition, while the government should ensure that everyone has the access to the education and degrees they’ll need to succeed. As retail jobs become more and more complex, applicants will need higher levels of education. The UKCES predicts that there will be a 25% increase in degree level qualifications between 2015 and 2020. The proliferation of degrees in recent years has meant that retailers tend not to hire those without one: “we get so many applicants with degrees now we rarely take those without higher education outside of the shop floor or warehouse staff”, one high street retailer told us. But that is not to say that a degree is the be all and end all. “Often the school leavers are better than the graduates, they have better drive, are more keen and are more entrepreneurial,” shared another.

Despite the amount of candidates available, retailers still struggle to attract those with the relevant and qualified analytic skills. While part of the solution will be successfully marketing career in fashion to mathematics and computer science graduates, the real solution is a well-rounded candidate with a knowledge of both fashion and the digital landscape. Will it be you?

To read the full report for free, download it from our website here.