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Given the growth of e-commerce, retailers, fashion and beauty brands have responded by shoring up their ranks — from frontline sales associates to across the c-suite — with staff and executives who have digital experience and expertise.

The result has been a transformation of the traditional retail model — from a human capital perspective. This includes training and education taking on a greater role as companies respond to the digital demands of a consumer-centric environment. As a result, staffing agencies and executive search firms expect the future of retail and fashion hiring to align with a “digital-first” approach across the industry.

Additionally, in the so-called “gig economy,” contract workers springing from one job to another is only expected to grow. Meanwhile, last week’s job report showed that there are more jobs available than there are people to fill the positions. But economists noted that there’s a disconnect between the location and skills requirements of the 6.7 million job openings with those looking for work.

One thing is clear, though: as the digital economy evolves, the demands on the workforce are changing. Laura Ceccato-Chopp, global senior vice president of retail, fashion and travel at Aquent, said the digital transformation “has had a huge impact on hiring trends across the fashion, luxury and beauty industries globally.”

“Clients are now looking to hire specialized digital talent that touches on everything from AI to social to POS and most importantly, digital marketing,” Ceccato-Chopp said. “Essentially, anything focused on impacting next-gen digital experiences across all marketing and e-commerce channels.”

Ceccato-Chopp also sees changes afoot in the physical retail end of the business. “The other hiring trend we are seeing is a focus on elevating the brand experience through specialized pop-ups that drive sales in both bricks-and-mortar and online to increase customer loyalty and growth,” she explained.

Aquent works with global brands and retailers, helping them to execute creative, digital and marketing campaigns and projects via scalable workforce solutions. When asked how companies can be more strategic in regards to managing staff and planning for the second half (which includes the holiday shopping season), Ceccato-Chopp suggested rethinking current approaches.

“In order to be more strategic, the best retailers are focused on bringing core marketing, creative and e-commerce functions in-house while partnering with specialized firms to help them with scalability around digital execution,” Ceccato-Chopp said.

Sonia Summers, founder and chief executive officer of Beauty Barrage, which offers staffing solutions for beauty companies, urges brands and retailers to plan ahead. “You can’t start recruiting in October to cover your November and December in-store holiday demands,” Summers said, adding that companies need plenty of time to “find the right candidates that understand your brand and have the time to properly educate them on it.”

Summers recommends having at least seven to 10 weeks “built into your calendar to get the right people through the funnel.”

Regarding the c-suite, the industry’s digital transformation is also impacting how and where companies recruit. The retail market changes are also occurring at a more rapid pace, and Gene S. Manheim, managing director at Herbert Mines Associates, said this requires changes in how companies conduct succession planning.

“At the senior level, an orderly grooming of internal candidates for succession, however well intended, oftentimes cannot keep pace with incredibly rapid changes that are occurring in the industry,” Manheim explained. “Consequently companies need to constantly evaluate not only whether they have the right people in key roles but also think more broadly than ever about succession from both inside and outside the organization.”

Manheim said another key trend he’s seeing is “that the ability to understand and analyze data is now an absolute must-have across an organization. No longer can data and analytics competency be confined to the IT and CRM teams. Everyone must have a level of fluency in these areas.”

Asked whether companies are searching out more digital officers, Manheim said this trend has been prevalent for some time. “However, two things have changed regarding digital officers,” Manheim said. First, organization structures have them more often reporting to the [chief executive officer] as an appropriate reflection of the critical nature of their role in the company, and secondly, more chief digital officers are being considered for ceo and president roles, which is an acknowledgement of the breadth/depth of importance that ‘digital’ represents to a company’s future success.”

Looking at broader trends in recruiting, LinkedIn culled insights from over 8,800 recruiters and hiring managers for a report released earlier this year.

Some of the trends identified included “diversity hiring,” which the researchers said was the “most embraced trend,” with 78 percent of managers and talent leaders “responding that they are tackling hiring diverse talent head-on.” The goal is to improve a company’s culture, noted 78 percent of respondents while 62 percent of those polled said it was a goal aimed at boosting financial performance.

Other notable trends included ways to rethink and reinvent the interview. “New interview techniques are gaining favor, such as assessing candidate soft skills (63 percent of respondents), understanding candidate weaknesses (57 percent) and interviewer bias (42 percent),” LinkedIn researchers said in the report.

AI is changing hiring practices.  Shutterstock / Wright Studio

Data is also becoming more important, the social site said. “This new era of talent intelligence is a big step forward as it allows talent leaders to use data to influence future hiring,” authors of the report said. “The top three ways companies noted they are using data is to increase retention (56 percent), evaluate skills gaps (50 percent) and build better offers (50 percent).”

Finally, respondents of the survey described artificial intelligence as a “bold disruptor” which is “helping them save time (67 percent), remove human bias (43 percent) and deliver the best candidate matches (31 percent).” LinkedIn noted that respondents also said AI is most helpful “when sourcing candidates (58 percent), screening (56 percent) and nurturing candidates (55 percent).”

Looking forward, experts see technology and digitization as having a lasting impact on recruitment and staffing. With fashion, beauty and retail Manheim said the future of hiring “will be vastly different than it has ever been both at the top and the entry point of companies.”

“At the very top, the historic approach of only hiring or promoting a merchant or operations route-up sitting ceo, chief operating officer or president is over,” he explained. “Executives from a far broader set of functional backgrounds will be/are being considered for ceo roles. And, at the entry level, a significant amount of the best and the brightest people coming out of college and graduate school are now considering/entering the fashion/retail/beauty industry because the impact and importance of ‘digital’ and ‘data’ and the pace of change and innovation in the sector has greatly enhanced its appeal as a career choice.”

For Ceccato-Chopp, the future of hiring means “access to the right specialized e-commerce and digital talent at the right time in the ever-changing gig economy.”