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Retail and Wholesale

Overview

The main activities undertaken in the Retail and Wholesale industry include buying and/or selling goods to the general public (Retail trade) or to businesses (Wholesale trade), and the supply of prescription and non-prescription medicine, information and health care services (Community Pharmacy).

The goods exchanged can span various industries such as food and beverage, clothing, footwear and personal accessories, recreational goods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries. Trading is widespread across Australia, covering metropolitan, regional and rural locations, either in the form of bricks-and-mortar establishments and/or online shopping options.

Community pharmacies in particular can play a key role in regional and remote communities by optimising access to health and pharmacy services which can otherwise be limited due to distance and location.

Overall, the industry is characterised by a highly competitive and open marketplace, attracting local and international players of all sizes. In Australia, the retail industry is predominantly made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, with 96% of businesses having fewer than 20 employees.

Nationally recognised training for the Retail and Wholesale industry is delivered under the SIR – Retail Services Training Package.

For information on community pharmacies, see the Community Pharmacy page.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

Employment in the Retail Trade industry has been relatively steady since 2003, with small fluctuations occurring over the years. It is projected that employment in the industry will increase slightly by 2025. The most common occupations in the Retail Trade industry are Sales Assistants (General) (34%) and Retail Managers (11%). Employment levels for all occupations involved in the Retail Trade industry are predicted to grow between 2020 and 2025, with Sales Assistants (General) predicted to have the largest industry employment increase of 25% by 2025.

Employment in the Wholesale Trade industry has been variable between 2001 and 2021, marked by a peak of around 425,600 in 2013 and a trough of 348,200 in 2017. This industry is expected to see a slight increase in employment, from 368,100 in 2021 to 375,500 by 2025. Storepersons and Sales Assistant (General) are the most common occupation within the Wholesale Trade industry, accounting for approximately 12% of the workforce. The largest increases in employment levels to 2025 are expected for the occupations of Sales Assistant (General) at 25%, followed by Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers at 23%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

Program enrolments in Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications peaked at approximately 49,370 in 2017 but have since declined to roughly 33,700 in 2020. Program completions peaked in 2017 at almost 15,770 and have since declined 43% to approximately 8,910 in 2020. The majority of training in Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications were at the certificate III (80%) and II (14%) levels, with very little activity at higher or lower qualification levels. Training in these most popular qualification levels were mostly in the Certificate III in Retail (78%) and the Certificate II in Retail Services (14%). The most popular intended occupation for this sector was Sales Assistant (General), followed by Retail Supervisor.

More than three quarters of Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications were delivered by either private training providers or enterprise providers (53% and 25% respectively). The majority of training was Commonwealth and state funded for all provider types except for private training providers, which had a higher proportion of domestic fee for service at 56%, followed by Commonwealth and state funded at 39%.

Approximately 41% of students were from New South Wales, with Queensland and Victoria accounting for 18% and 13% respectively. Similarly, the majority of training was delivered in New South Wales (37%), Victoria (30%), and Queensland (17%).

Commencements and completions for Retail and Wholesale-related apprentices and trainees have drastically declined since the 2011 figures of approximately 38,100 commencements and 24,370 completions. Though continuing a downwards trend, the rate of decline for commencements has slowed from 2014 onwards, and in 2020 recorded a slight increase from 8,160 in 2019 to 8,740. After a slight increase in 2017, completions have also continued to decline, down to 4,100 in 2020.

Most apprentices and trainees in the Retail and Wholesale sector have the intended occupation of Sales Assistant (General), with a much smaller proportion training towards the occupation of Retail Supervisor. As at December 2020, New South Wales reported close to one third (29%) of Retail and Wholesale apprentices and trainees, followed by Victoria (19%), Queensland (18%), South Australia (17%) and Western Australia (10%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, please visit NCVER’s Data Builder.  

For more data specific to your region visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, please sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry Insights

Industry insights on skills needs

According to the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast the top generic skills for the Retail and Wholesale industry are:

  • Learning agility/Information literacy/Intellectual autonomy and self-management
  • Language, literacy and numeracy (LLN)
  • Customer service/Marketing
  • Design mindset/Thinking critically/System thinking/Solving problems
  • Communication/Collaboration/Social intelligence.

Although technical skills are necessary to perform job tasks, the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast has identified top ‘soft skills’ employers will be looking for from their workforce, including emotional intelligence, problem solving, critical thinking and resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers in Retail were communication skills, detail-orientated and problem solving. The most advertised Retail occupations were Sales Assistant (General) followed by Retail Manager (General), with the top Retail employers identified as Woolworths Limited and Coles Supermarket.

Communication skills was also one of the top requested skills by employers in the Wholesale sector along with being detail orientated. The most advertised Wholesale occupations were Sales Representative followed by Sales and Marketing Manager, while the top Wholesale employers were identified as Chemist Warehouse and PFD Food Services PTY.

The Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast identified several challenges and opportunities currently impacting workforce skills in the Retail and Wholesale industry, including:

  • Retention of staff – High and increasing rates of staff turnover continue to negatively impact the Retail industry, with businesses facing the ongoing financial and operational burdens of re-recruitment and re-training while ensuring sales and services continue with reduced staff numbers. Ongoing staff retention issues can impact a business beyond those associated with a shortage of staff, such as diminishing a business’s ability to focus on future planning and innovation.
  • Lack of career progression – The above issue of staff turnover can, in part, be linked to a perceived lack of career progression and opportunities in the Retail and Wholesale industries. Retail employers are attempting to counteract this by investing in the training and development of staff to enable progression to store assistant or assistant store manager roles, however, the lack of pathways beyond these roles is still a challenge for many businesses.
  • Government policy changes – Changes to visa eligibility conditions have reduced access to overseas workers which means employers need to use alternative channels for filling vacancies, including training pools of local employees with the right skills.
  • Innovation and technology – Significant advancements in technology have largely changed the way in which consumers and businesses interact, with developments including, but not limited to, mobile payments, drone delivery, augmented reality, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and digital and tele-health. Even with these significant advancements, Australian small retail businesses have been slow to adopt new technology and online platforms, largely due to financial and time constraints and insufficient technical expertise.
  • Social media and online platforms – With 59% of retail businesses having an online presence and 56% active on social media, there is significant scope for the retail sector to become more engaged in social media platforms and boost their online presence (these rates are even lower among small businesses). Engagement in social media and online platforms provide businesses with new channels for advertising and promotion, customer engagement, growing customer bases, increasing sales and staying relevant in how they communicate with customers. To close the social media and online platform skills gap, the Wholesale and Retail IRC have been overseeing a cross sector project designed to develop appropriate training package products which is now with the AISC for endorsement. For more information about this project please visit Consumer Engagement via Online and Social Media.

The need to improve digital skills across the Retail industry has also been identified in the Industry Developments and Workforce Challenges: Retail Trade report, outlining that although the shift to digital technology is gaining in momentum, the transition within the Retail industry has been slower. Currently digital skills training is offered across eleven training packages, however, many of these units are elective and offer broad and generically based content. This report highlights that in order to meet industry needs, standalone units providing comprehensive knowledge of digital skills should be offered as well as being included as core units in Certificate II in Retail Services and Certificate III in Retail and Certificate IV in Retail Management.

The Labour Market Information Portal reveals the median age for workers in the wholesale trade industry is 44 years, and median weekly earnings are around $1,200 per week. The 2021 Skills Priority List lists wholesalers as having a strong future demand, with Retail Managers (General) and Retail Supervisors having moderate future demand.

COVID-19 impact

The immediate impacts of this pandemic on the Retail and Wholesale industry are mixed, with a report from the Department of Education, Skills and Employment identifying short-term increased demand for non-discretionary spending (e.g. supermarkets), while many retailers reliant on the sale of discretionary items from bricks and mortar stores have had to close stores and stand down staff.

A sentiment echoed across different publications is the impact this pandemic is having on eCommerce; an article by the Commonwealth Bank states that after a tapering of eCommerce growth between 2017 and 2019, a surge of 39% was recorded in March 2020 with further increases noted in April. In addition, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and Salesforce report reveals that digital purchases surged by 200% between March 2019 and March 2020. With widespread adoption, ecommerce revenue increased 75% year on year in the second quarter and 55% in the third quarter. 

An Australia Post report concurs with these findings, noting that 9 million Australian households shopped online in 2020. Although restrictions eased and online shopping activity softened, volumes never returned to pre-pandemic levels, and in November 2020 the combination of the Cyber Sales and people shopping early for Christmas saw the month become the biggest in Australian online shopping history. In the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, a third of respondents indicated they prefer to shop online now more than they did before the pandemic.

The Commonwealth Bank Consumer Insights report revealed 42% of consumers say they have spent less in total during the pandemic than they had previously, most noticeably in expensive discretionary items constrained by the pandemic such as flights, accommodation and restaurants. Another apparent change in priorities uncovered by the research is the desire to support Australian online retailers and manufacturers. One of the biggest changes in online shoppers’ activities during the pandemic was to increase the volume of purchases they made from online retailers located in Australia. Of the 49% of consumers who migrated towards domestic online retailers, 52% say they will continue to do so to the same degree in 2021.

The Australian Industry and Skills Committee: Emergency Response Sub-committee, established on 3 April 2020 and operating until 31 December 2020, enabled fast-tracked adjustments to qualifications and training package requirements to ensure the VET sector could quickly respond to areas of workforce and skill needs during the pandemic. One of the new skill sets created was to manage workplace responses to disrespectful, aggressive or abusive customer behaviour for individuals working in supervisory roles in front-line customer service, particularly retail industry work environments.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant research, organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

IRC and skills forecasts

Wholesale and Retail IRC (this industry was formally under the jurisdiction of the Wholesale, Retail and Personal Services IRC)

 

Relevant research

2021 Skills Priority List – National Skills Commission

A Blueprint for Retail Recovery – National Retail Association

CommBank Consumer Insights: How the pandemic has reshaped consumer behaviours, expectations and intentions - Commonwealth Bank of Australia

Coronavirus: The Great Accelerator – Commonwealth Bank

Critical skills - Australian Industry and Skills Committee: Emergency Response Sub-committee

Employment Conditions and Outlook for Retail Trade – Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment

Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey - Australian Bureau of Statistics

Industry Developments and Workforce Challenges: Retail Trade – Retail & Personal Skills Advisory Council (RAPS)

Inside Australian Online Shopping Industry Report - Australia Post

The reinvention of the retail experience: Why innovative retailers are turning to innovative solutions - Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and Salesforce

Wholesale Trade - Labour Market Information Portal

 

Government departments and agencies

Industry Skills Advisory Council NT (ISACNT)

Logistics Training Council

Skills SA

Victorian Skills Authority

SkillsIQ NSW ITAB

 

Industry associations and advisory bodies

ARA Retail Institute

Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS)

Australian Community Pharmacy Authority (ACPA)

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)

Australian Retailers Association (ARA)

Australian Sporting Goods Association (ASGA)

Master Grocers Australia (MGA)

National Online Retailers Association (NORA)

National Pharmaceutical Services Association (NPSA)

National Retail Association (NRA)

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA)

Pharmacy Board of Australia

Retail Drinks Australia

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia

 

Employee associations

Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU)

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA)

 

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2021, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, employment projections to May 2025
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2025
  • 1311 Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers
  • 1333 Importers, Exporters and Wholesalers
  • 1421 Retail Managers
  • 2254 Technical Sales Representatives
  • 5911 Purchasing and Supply Logistics Clerks
  • 6113 Sales Representatives
  • 6211 Sales Assistants (General)
  • 6214 Pharmacy Sales Assistants
  • 6311 Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers
  • 7411 Storepersons
  • 8912 Shelf Fillers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ08 - Employed persons by Occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards, viewed 1 August 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2021

Employed total by ANZSIC 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, 2001 to 2021, May Quarter.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census – employment, income and unpaid work, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.                

Employment level by 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, and 4 digit level occupations to identify the relevant VET-related occupations in the industry as a proportion of the total workforce.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training packages or qualifications:

  • SIR and WRR Training Packages
  • SIR10107 - Certificate I in Retail Services
  • SIR10112 - Certificate I in Retail Services
  • SIR10116 - Certificate I in Retail Services 
  • SIR20207 - Certificate II in Retail 
  • SIR20212 - Certificate II in Retail Services 
  • SIR20216 - Certificate II in Retail Services 
  • SIR20307 - Certificate II in Wholesale 
  • SIR20312 - Certificate II in Retail Fast Food
  • SIR30207 - Certificate III in Retail
  • SIR30212 - Certificate III in Retail Operations
  • SIR30216 - Certificate III in Retail
  • SIR30307 - Certificate III in Wholesale
  • SIR30312 - Certificate III in Retail Supervision
  • SIR30316 - Certificate III in Business to Business Sales
  • SIR30412 - Certificate III in Business to Business Sales 
  • SIR40207 - Certificate IV in Retail Management 
  • SIR40212 - Certificate IV in Retail Management 
  • SIR40316 - Certificate IV in Retail Management
  • SIR50107 - Diploma of Retail Management
  • SIR50112 - Diploma of Retail Management
  • SIR50116 - Diploma of Retail Leadership 
  • SIR50207 - Diploma of Visual Merchandising 
  • SIR50212 - Diploma of Visual Merchandising 
  • SIR50217 - Diploma of Visual Merchandising 
  • SIR50317 - Diploma of Retail Merchandise Management 
  • SIR80112 - Graduate Certificate in Retail Leadership 
  • WRR10102 - Certificate I in Retail Operations 
  • WRR20102 - Certificate II in Retail Operations 
  • WRR30102 - Certificate III in Retail Supervision 
  • WRR30202 - Certificate III in Retail Operations.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2016 to 2020 program enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 subject enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

SIR and WRR Training Packages apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2011 to 2020 commencements
  • 2011 to 2020 completions 
  • apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2020 collection, by qualification and state and territory.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2021, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2021, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2017 and June 2020 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

Retail

  • Generic skills/Occupations
    • Retail Trade.
  • Employers
    • 621111 Sales Assistant (General)
    • 142111 Retail Manager (General)
    • 611399 Sales Representatives nec
    • 541211 Information Officer
    • 621511 Retail Supervisor
    • Retail Trade.

Wholesale

  • Generic skills/Occupations
    • Wholesale Trade.
  • Employers
    • 611399 Sales Representatives nec
    • 131112 Sales and Marketing Manager
    • 621411 Pharmacy Sales Assistant
    • 541211 Information Officer
    • 741111 Storeperson
    • Wholesale Trade.
Updated: 21 Jan 2022
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