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Addressing the talent gap in the luxury retail sector | ALW2019

Fast-changing innovations and consumer expectations have led to luxury retailers finding themselves underequipped in the HR department in the face of this change.

Securing talented professionals remains a major obstacle for luxury retailers However, there are several methods to tackle this talent gap “Young talent is important, but talent has no age limit” David Balfour, co-founder of LightBlue

As with many fast-changing sectors In the MENA region and beyond, the luxury retail sector is struggling to find the right talent to help them navigate the waves of transformation that continue to ebb and flow, constantly shifting the businesses around them. 

The 6th edition of the Arab Luxury World  (ALW) conference, the Middle East’s leading event in the luxury sector currently taking place in Dubai, held a panel discussion addressing this, under the title of “Addressing the Talent Gap.”

Among the many talking points discussed, the panel proposed the question: What can the premium luxury industry do to build and attract the right talent in order to stay ahead of the curve?

Naturally, new technology means new skills need to be learnt or upskilled, but that’s not all. New tech often brings with it new ways of thinking, and shifting consumer demands. 

Take e-commerce, for example. Marketers that have decades of experience with brick-and-mortar luxury retail under their belt are forced to reorient their sales strategy, since what used to work 20 years ago won’t necessarily work anymore. Understanding millennials’ mindsets, staying on top of tech-savvy consumers’ trends and offering a more holistic customer experience are all key to surviving in the modern luxury sector. 

But does the talent exist? 

A 2014 study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Business of Fashion (BOF) found that many executives in fashion and luxury were very concerned about securing talented professionals, with 50% believing they lacked access to the right talent.

This has improved since then, but the crux of the problem still remains. 

The study identified 4 key areas of concern for luxury and fashion employers: 

1. Recruiting the best talent

2. Cultivating a strong leadership pipeline

3. Building a compelling employer brand

4. Leveraging digital technology for HR

“The joint study confirms that recruiting challenges persist across the full spectrum of creative and business roles,” BCG said. “It also shows that the most difficult jobs to fill are in design and product, followed closely by technology and digital.” 

Naturally, companies will have to make do with the existing local or regional talent pool (unless they can afford recruiting internationally). Some highly developed countries, though, are thinking out of the box. 

“To address the talent shortage [in Singapore], [recruitment company Randstad] says some brands are looking to hire people from outside of the luxury retail industry, particularly those who have strong networks of high-net-worth clients, customer-relationship management (CRM) expertise and high-end customer-service backgrounds,” Inside Retail wrote in 2016. 

This illustrates that perhaps luxury firms are too focused in their searches, and could stand to branch out. 

Hiring outside of your given industry scope often can bring unique value that you might miss out on by hiring within your existing sector,” business magazine Fast Company writes. “After all, a diversity of backgrounds and opinions is key to innovation.”

But innovation isn’t all that improves with such an out of box mentality.

As per Zip Recruiter, Naviga Recruiting and Executive Search says hiring outside your industry can also help with your company reputation: “Companies that restrict hiring to industry-only candidates give off the perception that they’re resistant to change. Top talent is attracted to companies that are using best practices and offer the opportunity for growth, not companies that always want to stick with what’s safe and comfortable.”

So if all else fails, luxury executives should give the left-field candidate a chance. 

How do we cultivate the proper talent pool?

While hiring from outside the industry could certainly help invigorate a luxury executive’s business, it does not nullify the fact you still need the right talent from within your field. While it’s become a sort of cliché to criticize the schooling system at this point, the fact remains that something needs to be done. The hiring domain has changed, and schools and universities will have to follow if they want to graduate skilled and talented employees-to-be. 

It is too late for many millennials, you say. Indeed, it is too late for them at the school and university level, but at the workplace? CeDavid Balfour, co-founder at LightBluertainly not. Luxury brands should look to upskill their employees through sponsored training courses and other forms of continuing education. Upskilling your employees shows you’re interested in their development, and your employees will be grateful for the investment you’ve come to make in them, increasing retention rates and morale. From social media marketing courses, to CRM training, and more, you are possibly sitting on a well of untapped potential – you just need to take the leap, investing time (and/or money) in their self-development.  

However, even with the recent technological inclinations of the luxury retail sector, talent is not locked to youth. “Young talent is important, but talent has no age limit” David Balfour, co-founder of creative experience agency LightBlue said at ALW. 

Luxury retailers will need to broaden their thinking and mindsets to realize that the answer to finding the ‘right’ talent is no binary affair, but quite the complex one.