• Background South West

  • career-training

    Sector Overview


    • In 2012 UK retail sales were over £311 billion

    • There are over 280,000 retail outlets in the UK

    • More than a third of all consumer spending goes through shops

    • The fastest growing sub-sectors are food sales and online retailers

    • The average weekly spend of the whole nation is around £7 billion

    • Around 3 million people are employed in retail

    When most people think of retail they think of being stood behind a till, but that’s not the extent of retail careers, the range of roles in this sector is huge. There is a real focus on development, with effort and attitude often being rewarded with quick promotions to managerial or team leader positions. The majority of employees in the retail sector work part-time, so there are great opportunities to work while you study and then progress after you finish your education.

    The day-to-day role of a retail employee can vary significantly depending on job role and type of company worked for. You might be folding clothes at Primark, helping restock at Asda or managing a team at Boots.



    Retail Buying

    If you can’t get enough of shopping, this might be the job for you because is essentially buying products for a living. You will be responsible for selecting what merchandise your store will sell, so you will need to keep up to date on current fashions and trends. These are the people who decide what’s hot and what’s not from season to season. Salaries start out between £16,000 and £20,000 depending on your employer and you can expect to earn more as you gain more experience.

    Store Operations

    You’ll be right in the action here; you’ll be serving customers and helping the store run smoothly. It’s down to you to make the overall shopping experience better for people so it helps to have good knowledge of what you are selling (you can’t just blag it, you will get found out.). You’re looking at a starting salary of £11,000 to £15,000 depending on your employer, but this is a sector where progression is matched by ambition and you will find yourself quickly climbing up the ladder.

    Visual Merchandising

    If you have a knack for eye catching fashion displays then this will ‘suit’ you down to the ground (see what I did there?). You will be responsible for arranging the displays in windows so that passersby will be drawn into the store. But it doesn’t stop there; the mannequins and stand layouts inside will also be arranged according to your design, so that the customers are getting a good experience and therefore buying stuff. Salaries start out at between £12,000 and £16,000 a year.


    If you have a talent for leadership and motivation then you would make for a great manager. It will be down to you to organise your staff so that everything runs smoothly, from the shop floor to the warehouse and deliveries. Store managers usually start out on £16,000 to £20,000, while area managers or managers of huge stores can earn in excess of £40,000 a year – this is usually accompanied with perks such as longer holidays and company cars.




    Over 30,000 people started in Level 2 and 3 Retail Apprenticeships in 2012 and that number is expected to increase this year. In this sector in particular employers like to teach you while you work and you’ll find yourself taking in a lot very quickly. The Level 2 award will take the form of a diploma, a BTEC or an NVQ. Some of the Apprenticeship Frameworks and associated roles you might see are:
    Retail (General) • Retail Specialist

    Advanced Apprenticeships

    Just like a regular Apprenticeship, you will be learning and working at the same time. The Retail Apprenticeship continues to Level 3, again resulting in a BTEC, Diploma or NVQ. Here are some of the job roles:
    Sales Professional • Visual Merchandising • Retail Management

    Foundation Degrees

    Foundation Degrees are a great way to get an employer respected qualification while still working in your job. They are university level qualifications and are the equivalent of the first two years of an honours degree. These take two years to complete and if you want, you can extend your qualification to a full Honours degree when you finish.


    A –levels are a good pathway to university, but they are also qualifications that employers like to see. There aren’t any A-levels that are directly linked to retail, but some that might help you are listed below.
    Business Studies • Maths • IT • English

    Employer funded study

    A lot of the bigger chains such as Sainsbury’s, B&Q, Tesco and Marks and Spencer have special training schemes for their employees. These more often than not have an option for management so you know there’s an opportunity to go far! Entry levels vary, so it’s best to check the brands website for more information.

    More Info


    Case Study


    James Graham

    Deciding on a career that best suits your needs is not an easy decision. For James Graham, choosing an Apprenticeship with ‘Celebration Balloons’ in Plymouth was the best route for him to start his career in Retail. We spoke to James to see what advice he could give to aspiring apprentices.

    GHQ: What made you want to become an Apprentice?
    James: Better opportunities to show I can be reliable and dependable, and gain employment.

    GHQ: What have you found a challenge?
    James: I think many aspects have been a challenge but with the help of Celebration Balloons and GHQ I have been able to get through my NVQ and complete my Apprenticeship.

    GHQ: What advice would you give to others wanting to work in the Retail sector?
    James: It can be fun, hard work and different, but if you enjoy dealing with people and customers it’s a great job to be in, with great career opportunities.

    Having completed his Apprenticeship, James has continued to work at ‘Celebration Balloons’. David, his employer, commented:

    “A Retail career can be very rewarding and an NVQ in Retail will open doors to further training & possible management progression in the Retail sector.”

    GHQ Training are dedicated to finding Apprenticeships with some of Devon and Cornwall’s most established and professional businesses, ensuring that they offer the best experience for both the learner and the employer. They offer training in a variety of courses, including business & administration, childcare, retail, hairdressing, customer service, management, beauty, and teaching & learning.

    To find out more about our courses and to speak to a recruitment advisor, call GHQ Training on 01752 218086 today.