NEW YORK — Workers in the apparel and retail industry are not feeling the love from their bosses.
And from the corporate human resources perspective, the difficulties of recruiting and retaining workers — especially younger ones — have never been greater.
According to a job satisfaction survey conducted and sponsored by WWD, 24 Seven Inc. and C-Suite Inc., and presented at the first WWD Human Resources Leadership Forum this month, just 12 percent of the respondents said they felt valued by their employers. Speakers at the conference said the challenge of recruiting and retaining talent was enormous. Dissatisfied employees, high turnover and generational differences in the workplace as well as aging workers are among the issues facing companies.
Percent of respondents searching for jobs monthly or more frequently
DESIGN AND TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT
PLANNING AND MERCHANDISING
SALES AND MARKETING
PRODUCTION AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
OPERATIONS AND IT
The unhappiness of many in the workforce, depending on age, appears to stem from the struggle to balance work and lifestyle, a sense that the talents of individuals aren't being properly used and that they are underpaid and a bad match with their firms, Barbara Marchetti, president of C-Suite, said in an interview.
"People don't feel that their full bandwidth of skills and experiences are being utilized...the number-one reason people are unhappy in organizations is because they feel it's a cultural mismatch,'' she said. "They just don't fit in...not being recognized for a job well done can also cause unhappiness.''
Percent of respondents satisfied in their current position
OPERATIONS AND IT
SALES AND MARKETING
PLANNING AND MERCHANDISING
DESIGN AND TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT
PRODUCTION AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
The survey, which didn't break down the reasons for dissatisfaction, found that technology was having the greatest impact on the careers of respondents.
"We're talking about various components of the job, from concept to store,'' Marchetti said. "Some facet of a role or department, whether it is production, design, manufacturing or logistics will either be augmented or replaced by technology.''
Individuals said top-line growth was the number-one priority of their employers.
"What we gathered from this survey is that change, change, change is clearly the theme of the day, the week, the year, the decade," Marchetti said during the conference, which was attended by human resources professionals from all aspects of the industry, including designers, retailers and suppliers.
Change Is in the Air
Percent of what respondents say a company values most today
"I think it's very telling to see that technology was the number-one factor [impacting careers] and if you look at it, technology actually drives other areas [such as consolidation and operations]," Marchetti said. "Technology clearly affects retail consolidation, outsourcing and manufacturer consolidation. So technology has played into each of these areas."
The survey also showed that 91 percent of employees in a retail/e-commerce/store-level position would consider switching jobs if offered a more competitive salary. Additionally, at the retail level, 61 percent of employees are in pursuit of better quality of life, which explains why there is such a high turnover rate in the retail sector of the industry, Marchetti said.
What Motivates People to Move
Percent of respondents saying they would consider moving for the following reasons (by age):
BETTER GROWTH POTENTIAL
MORE PRESTIGIOUS BRAND/COMPANY
BETTER HEALTH BENEFITS
Source: WWD.com, 24 Seven and C-Suite. There were 1,257 respondents. The survey was conducted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 6.
In vertical/single-label retailers, 63 percent of the respondents were satisfied in their current positions, and 58 percent in multilabel specialty stores were satisfied. As far as years in the industry, those with fewer than five years were only 53 percent satisfied in their current position, and those with 20 years or more of experience were 65 percent satisfied.
In addition to the presentation by Marchetti, the half-day conference, held here, included presentations by Larry McClure, senior vice president of h.r. at Liz Claiborne Inc.; Casey Priest, vice president of marketing at The Container Store, and William Cody, chief talent officer at Urban Outfitters.
The Container Store, the nationwide retailer that boasts holding a spot on Fortune's list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For since 2000 and held the top spot for two of those years, prides itself on not having an h.r. department, according to Priest's presentation. The 40-store chain has a Cherry Hill, N.J., unit opening later this year and plans for six additional store openings in 2008.
Priest said The Container Store's core competency is "astonishing customer service" while abiding by the foundation principle that "one great person equals three good people." She cites this, as well as a selective hiring processes, creative recruiting ideas and 241 hours of formal training as paramount to the retailer's growing success and turnover rate of less than 10 percent a year, which compares with an industry average of over 75 percent.
"We receive about 40,000 applications a year, and we'll only hire about 6 percent of those who apply, so we're highly selective. We have a very intense interview process: You start with a phone interview, then you do a group interview where we see who really speaks up and who has an affinity for selling, and there's a visual merchandise exercise as well. Then you have a one-on-one interview," said Priest, who stressed that the company makes sure to respond whether or not the applicant receives the job.
"So, why don't we have an h.r. department?" Priest asked. "Well, it's because we're all in the business of h.r. and people, and people are the most important thing. That's what drives your business, and we believe that if you take care of your employees, everything else comes. If the employees are taken care of, then the customer is taken care of, then finally the shareholder is taken care of."Cody, a Wharton School alum who joined the Urban Outfitters team in April 2007, focused on the Generation Y component of the workforce and how to successfully recruit students into the retail sector in his presentation. Cody illustrated a cohort of contradictions he feels are infectious among young adults joining the workforce today, labeling them as a "community of individuals" and "selfish loyalists" as well as "ambition with a safety net," referring to the generation's reliance on their parents.
"Probably the most troubling to anyone who is involved within business or within the talent field is job surfing. When I look at it from the Wharton School's perspective, the graduate who graduated in 2007 will have 2.5 jobs by the time they hit their fifth reunion, so that's on average a change of jobs every 18 to 20 months. So, from a talent perspective, you're dealing with someone who thinks it's perfectly all right to change jobs very frequently after they graduate college and that's a tremendous challenge for any industry," said Cody.
Cody referred to a survey conducted by Michigan State University that found that 50 percent of students would have no problem backing out after accepting a job to take something better. This information supports the results from the job satisfaction survey, which found that 93 percent of the under-25 age bracket would consider moving jobs for a better salary.
In hopes of rendering the term "job surfing" obsolete among the Gen-Y set, Cody proposed "hyper-rotational programs" that are focused on young employees. The idea is to give them little snippets of experience from different aspects within the company from 18 months to two years, depending on the department. "Instead of job surfing, create the wave within your own company," said Cody.
Liz Claiborne's McClure opened his presentation with a short film about Kate Spade, Lucky Brand Jeans, Mexx, Liz Claiborne and Juicy Couture, some of the most lucrative brands within the company that produces nearly 250 million pieces of apparel each year.
McClure explained the importance of recognizing talent, and aligning it with the goals of the company, which is aimed at bringing value to the market.
"We're designed to win," McClure said. "It's all about our product and our talent, it's about how you design everything we do, every process, every product, every function."McClure offered details of the leadership charter of the brand leviathan, which employs 15,000 associates worldwide. "You start by inspiring a vision and defining a code and talking about values and behaviors," he explained. "It's how you build capacity, build the muscle and tone, and the ability of the organization is to respond to all of the challenges we have in the workforce."
McClure went on to say, "Then it's a matter of directing the resources, such as time, money and people. These are all things you can allocate, which is what you're expected to do as a leader when it comes to managing our business. At the end of the day, it's all about delivering value."
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