Threat of recession prompts retailers to increase investment in tech L&D


New research from O’Reilly, the premier source for insight-driven learning on technology and business, has revealed that 85% of companies within the UK’s retail and eCommerce sector will increase investment in tech learning and development (L&D) over the next twelve months with the threat of a looming recession.

However, the research, conducted by Censuswide in September 2022, which surveyed 300 HR decision-makers within the retail and eCommerce, technology and finance industries (100 per industry) – revealed that 96% of HR leaders in retail companies feel supported by their leadership team to invest in tech-related L&D, signalling the sector’s growing concern around the widening digital skills gaps.

Recruitment and L&D spend not aligned with skills most lacking 

The research highlights that demand for digitally skilled workers within the UK’s retail sector is outgrowing the level of digital skills available. Yet, less than half (48%) of retail companies are willing to spend more than £25,000 on recruitment and L&D combined, to boost skills such as cybersecurity, software architecture and data analysis.

Within the retail sector, more than two-fifths (22%) of the HR leaders surveyed said cybersecurity skills are the most in-demand, followed by software architecture (19%) and data analysis (18%). Despite this, only a limited number of companies are willing to spend more than £10,000 on recruitment (18%) and L&D (13%) to hire cybersecurity talent over the next twelve months. Of all the industries surveyed, the retail sector will spend the least on L&D for cybersecurity skills over the next twelve months – spending a total of £6825 compared to the tech (£8981) and finance (£10,001) sectors.

Meanwhile, the majority of companies within the retail sector plan to spend no more than £10,000 on recruitment (76%) or L&D (79%) to bolster software architecture skills. Furthermore, companies will spend no more than £10,000 on recruitment (82%) or L&D (77%) for data analysis talent.

Instead, two in five (20%) retail organisations plan to spend up to or more than £20,000 on recruitment for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) talent. Additionally, 21% will spend up to or more than £20,000 on AI and ML-related L&D to upskill employees.

Barriers to digitally upskilling employees 

The majority (73%) of companies within the retail and eCommerce sector plan to spend between £25,000 – £50,000 on overall recruitment for tech vacancies in the next twelve months, while 70% will spend the same amount on tech-related L&D. Retail companies will spend an average £29,275 on recruitment compared to £28,801 on L&D. The most significant barrier to upskilling current employees for nearly a quarter (23%) of retail organisations is insufficient resources, followed by a lack of internal personnel (20%) and limited internal buy-in (16%).

“With the UK facing the most challenging economic climate in decades, it’s encouraging that retail organisations are seeking to bolster digital skills to remain competitive and spur growth,” says Alexia Pedersen, VP of EMEA at O’Reilly.“This has never been more pertinent, with the cost-of-living crisis meaning that almost 60% of British shoppers will cut back during the upcoming retail golden quarter.”

“With turbulent times ahead, creating a highly skilled digital workforce will keep British retailers at the forefront of their industry. Therefore, organisations must deploy upskilling programmes to bolster ongoing recruitment efforts. Likewise, with over 80% of all jobs advertised in the UK now requiring digital skills, employees should prioritise L&D to make themselves an invaluable asset to their organisation.”