Lacklustre training leaves retail staff underprepared to perform during the pandemic, research from Axonify reveals

A lack of training has left frontline retail associates underprepared to perform during the pandemic, research from the latest report from Axonify, a modern training and communication solution for frontline associates, has revealed.

Original research of over 2,000 frontline workers in its ‘The State of Frontline Employee Training 2020’ report showed that while 87% of UK retail store associates have confidence in their own ability to do their job effectively, over a third (35%) said they felt underprepared to perform their role in the current environment - rising to 40% among grocery staff and supermarket workers - and nearly a fifth (19%) said they hadn’t received the proper training on the changes impacting their job during the pandemic. 

Despite more than half (51%) of UK retail frontline workers saying they have received the training needed to perform effectively, a further 56% felt the training they had received had not been personalised to their skills, and a quarter (25%) felt the training lacked personalisation and didn’t cater towards their experience.

During the pandemic, store associates have had to navigate constantly shifting guidance on keeping colleagues and customers safe in-store – from policing occupancy levels and the wearing of mandatory face coverings to new cleaning routines and changing procedures on delivering CX at a safe distance.  However, the report showed that just 22% of UK retail workers that took on new tasks or job roles during the pandemic received related training. 

Despite social distancing requirements, in person or face-to-face training proved key for 67% of UK retail store associates when it came to their ongoing training preferences, however there is also a demand for real-time digital communications and mobile training.  Almost half (48%) of UK retail store staff want access to training via their own personal device and a further 28% said they would be more engaged with training if it was delivered via this method. 

As well as providing staff with the ongoing training needed to keep up to speed with new roles and tasks required in the current trading environment, retail businesses have also needed to address reboarding as they continue to bring staff back from furlough.  Streamlining reboarding, the report suggests, by providing training little and often is more effective than adopting a ‘one and done’ approach.  This means delivering two or three things that staff need to know, which is then repeated and reinforced at regular intervals, instead of overloading staff with information all at once.

According to the report, 55% of the UK’s frontline workforce were placed on furloughed due to the pandemic - 33% of those furloughed have now returned to work following the reopening of non-essential stores in June.  However, over a fifth (22%) remained on furlough and had not yet returned to work by the beginning of August, presenting additional pressure points - both for employees and retail businesses - as Government’s CJRS ends in October and is replaced by the new Job Support Scheme is announced.  

Carol Leaman, CEO and Co-Founder of Axonify, commented: “The frontline workforce has felt the full force of the impact of the global pandemic, and it’s shown that training and support is needed now more than ever, if we’re to unite and tackle the challenges we face.  But any training provided needs to be carefully considered - the requirements of the retail workforce have evolved, and retail businesses must adapt to ensure their cultures continue to empower their most valuable asset – their frontline staff.”

“Now is the time for retail businesses to nurture and support the frontline and ensure they have the skills to do their best work.  By making sure every frontline employee recognises the role they play in supporting the business and the customers and communities it serves, the greater the chance of survival.”

About the research

Research commissioned by Arlington Research for Axonify, conducted online between 27 July – 5 August 2020, surveying 2,000 respondents who work on the frontline at businesses with 1,000+ employees. Respondents came from the USA (667 respondents), UK (667 respondents), and Australia (667 respondents), with 500 respondents each in retail, grocery, contact centre and professional sales.

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