Poor appearance and 'bad dress sense’ can prevent the long-term unemployed from getting back to work, according to researchers from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
A survey of 500 Manchester retailers showed that soft skills such as appearance were vital to employers, with 74% saying that that it was an important consideration when choosing staff and 47% offering training on appearance.
The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by Skillsmart Retail, found that, because retail is an important sector for getting the long-term unemployed back into work, people deemed to be lacking 'soft' skills, such as the 'right' appearance and attitude, might be shut out of the sector.
Project leader Professor Chris Warhurst, of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research at Strathclyde, said: "Having staff who are good-looking, or who have what is considered the right look, could help retailers to differentiate themselves in what is a very competitive market and a city which wants to position itself as attractive may feel it needs to have an attractive workforce.
"The 'right' look in, for example, a Goth boutique will mean they will want someone who looks like their customers but if you work in a chainstore, they will want someone who has the look for that store- perhaps a more conservative look."
The research found that soft skills were important for obtaining and doing a job and employers preferred them to be already in place when a candidate was recruited. Harder skills, such as product knowledge, were less important in recruitment and selection but were still valued as part of the job and training for them was offered once staff were employed.
Lynn Bavage, National Manager for England at Skillsmart Retail, said “Soft skills are vitally important to get the long term unemployed back into work, and we are working hard to ensure that both retailers and potential employees are able to access soft skill training.
“Through our schemes such as Retail Works, retailers can work with local training providers and local administrations to give potential employees job search skills, tips on appearance and a greater understanding of working in a retail store from day one. This will ensure that soft skills issues are being addressed and help to get the unemployed back into work.”
The report is designed to help training providers and labour market organisations to develop a better awareness of, and to meet, employers' needs.
The research project received additional (non-financial) support from the Skills Productivity Alliance, which includes the North West Development Agency, and Skillsmart Retail, the Sector Skills Council for Retail.