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Retail and Wholesale


The main activities undertaken in the Retail and Wholesale industry include buying and/or selling goods to the general public (Retail trade) or to businesses (Wholesale trade), and the supply of prescription and non-prescription medicine, information and health care services (Community Pharmacy).

The goods exchanged can span various industries such as food and beverage, clothing, footwear and personal accessories, recreational goods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries. Trading is widespread across Australia, covering metropolitan, regional and rural locations, either in the form of bricks-and-mortar establishments and/or online shopping options.

Community pharmacies in particular can play a key role in regional and remote communities by optimising access to health and pharmacy services which can otherwise be limited due to distance and location.

The three areas together are sizeable, and Retail alone is the second biggest employing sector in Australia (after the Health Care and Social Assistance sector), with a workforce of approximately 1.3 million. The Retail and Wholesale industry hosts a multitude of occupations including Sales Assistant, Retail Manager, Visual Merchandiser, Merchandise Planner and Buyer, Warehouse Manager, Operations Manager, Supply Chain Manager, Store Manager and Pharmacy Assistant.

Overall, the industry is characterised by a highly competitive and open marketplace, attracting local and international players of all sizes. In Australia, the retail industry is predominantly made up of small and medium-sized enterprises, with 96% of businesses having fewer than 20 employees.

Nationally recognised training for the Retail and Wholesale industry is delivered under the SIR – Retail Services Training Package.

For information on community pharmacies, see the Community Pharmacy page.

Information sourced from the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and Skills Forecasts

Wholesale and Retail IRC (this industry was formally under the jurisdiction of the Wholesale, Retail and Personal Services IRC)

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

Employment in the Retail Trade industry has gradually increased since 2000, and it is projected that employment in the industry will continue to grow until 2024. The most common occupations in the Retail Trade industry are Sales Assistants (General) (34%) and Retail Managers (11%). Employment levels for all occupations involved in the Retail Trade industry are predicted to grow between 2019 and 2024. Storepersons, currently 2% of the workforce, are predicted to have the largest industry employment increase of 13% by 2024.

Employment in the Wholesale Trade industry has been variable between 2000 and 2019, marked by a peak of around 425,600 in 2013 and a trough of 348,200 in 2017. This industry is expected to see a slight increase in employment until 2024. Storepersons and Sales Assistant (General) are the most common occupation within the Wholesale Trade industry, accounting for more than 12% of the workforce. The largest increases in employment levels over the next five years to 2024 are expected for the occupations of Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers at 14%, followed by Sales Assistants (General) at 13%.

Training trends

Training snapshot

Program enrolments increased in Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications between 2015 and 2017 and peaked at just over 49,370 in 2017 but have since declined to 42,480 in 2018. Program completions peaked in 2015 at almost 16,180 and have since declined to less than 12,360 in 2018. The majority of training in Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications was at the certificate III (73%) and II (22%) levels, with less activity at higher or lower qualification levels. Training in these most popular qualification levels was mostly in the Certificate III in Retail (72%) and the Certificate II in Retail Services (22%). The most popular intended occupation for this sector was Sales Assistant (General), followed by Retail Supervisor.

The majority of Retail and Wholesale-related qualifications were delivered by private training providers and enterprise providers (54% and 24% respectively). There was some variation to this, with a Diploma of Visual Merchandising mainly delivered by universities (76%) and TAFE institutes (24%), and a significant proportion of qualifications at the certificate I level were delivered in schools (around 45%). The majority of training was Commonwealth and state funded for all provider types except for private training providers, which was split across government and domestic fee for service. Nearly all school-based training was Commonwealth and state funded. Approximately 36% of students were from New South Wales, with Queensland and Victoria accounting for approximately 20% and 15% respectively. Training delivery location was relatively evenly split between Victoria (32%) and New South Wales (32%), with a further 17% of training delivered in Queensland.

Commencements and completions for Retail and Wholesale-related apprentices and trainees have drastically declined since the 2010 figures of approximately 40,380 commencements and 23,490 completions. Although the level of decline for commencements and completions has been relatively gradual between 2014 and 2017, a notable decline occurred from 2017 to 2018 where commencements dropped from approximately 11,690 to roughly 8,350 and completions fell from 8,800 to about 6,070. Most apprentices and trainees in the Retail and Wholesale sector have the intended occupation of Sales Assistant (General) with also some as Retail Supervisor. In 2018, New South Wales reported close to a third (30%) of Retail and Wholesale apprentices and trainees, with Queensland (18%) and Victoria (17%) reporting relatively similar proportions, followed by South Australia (15%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, please visit NCVER’s VET Students by Industry. If you are prompted to log in, select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

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Industry Insights

Industry insights on skills needs

According to the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast the top generic skills for the Retail and Wholesale industry are:

  • Learning agility/Information literacy/Intellectual autonomy and self-management
  • Language, literacy and numeracy (LLN)
  • Customer service/Marketing
  • Design mindset/Thinking critically/System thinking/Solving problems
  • Communication/Collaboration/Social intelligence.

Although technical skills are necessary to perform job tasks, the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast has identified four ‘soft skills’ employers will be looking for from their workforce, including emotional intelligence, problem solving, critical thinking and resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers in Retail were communication skills and being energetic. The most advertised Retail occupations were Sales Assistant (General) followed by Retail Manager (General), and the top Retail employers were Woolworths Limited and Coles Supermarket.

Communication skills was also one of the top requested skills by employers in the Wholesale sector along with being detail orientated. The most advertised Wholesale occupations were Sales Representative followed by Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers, while the top Wholesale employers were Schneider Electric and Metcash Limited.

The Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast identified several challenges and opportunities currently impacting workforce skills in the Retail and Wholesale industry, including:

  • Retention of staff – High and increasing rates of staff turnover continue to negatively impact the Retail industry, with businesses facing the ongoing financial and operational burdens of re-recruitment and re-training while ensuring sales and services continue with reduced staff numbers. Ongoing staff retention issues can impact a business beyond those associated with a shortage of staff, such as diminishing a business’s ability to focus on future planning and innovation.
  • Lack of career progression – The above issue of staff turnover can, in part, be linked to a perceived lack of career progression and opportunities in the Retail and Wholesale industries. Retail employers are attempting to counteract this by investing in the training and development of staff to enable progression to store assistant or assistant store manager roles, however, the lack of pathways beyond these roles is still a challenge for many businesses.
  • Government policy changes – Changes to visa eligibility conditions have reduced access to overseas workers which means employers need to use alternative channels for filling vacancies, including training pools of local employees with the right skills.
  • Innovation and technology – Significant advancements in technology have largely changed the way in which consumers and businesses interact, with developments including, but not limited to, mobile payments, drone delivery, augmented reality, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and digital and tele-health. Even with these significant advancements, Australian small retail businesses have been slow to adopt new technology and online platforms, largely due to financial and time constraints and insufficient technical expertise.
  • Social media and online platforms – With 59% of retail businesses having an online presence and 56% active on social media, there is significant scope for the retail sector to become more engaged in social media platforms and boost their online presence (these rates are even lower among small businesses). Engagement in social media and online platforms provide businesses with new channels for advertising and promotion, customer engagement, growing customer bases, increasing sales and staying relevant in how they communicate with customers. To close the social media and online platform skills gap, the Wholesale and Retail IRC have been overseeing a cross sector project designed to develop appropriate training package products. For more information about this project please visit Consumer Engagement via Online and Social Media.

The need to improve digital skills across the Retail industry has also been identified in the Industry Developments and Workforce Challenges: Retail Trade report, outlining that although the shift to digital technology is gaining in momentum, the transition within the Retail industry has been slower. Currently digital skills training is offered across eleven training packages, however, many of these units are elective and offer broad and generically based content. This report highlights that in order to meet industry needs, standalone units providing comprehensive knowledge of digital skills should be offered as well as being included as core units in Certificate II in Retail Services and Certificate III in Retail and Certificate IV in Retail Management. 

Links and resources

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment, 2018, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, employment projections to May 2023
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2023
  • 1311 Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Managers
  • 1333 Importers, Exporters and Wholesalers
  • 1421 Retail Managers
  • 2254 Technical Sales Representatives
  • 5911 Purchasing and Supply Logistics Clerks
  • 6113 Sales Representatives
  • 6211 Sales Assistants (General)
  • 6214 Pharmacy Sales Assistants
  • 6311 Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers
  • 7411 Storepersons
  • 8912 Shelf Fillers.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Employed persons by Industry group of main job (ANZSIC), Sex, State and Territory, November 1984 onwards, 6291.0.55.003 - EQ06, viewed 1 November 2018

  • Employed total by ANZSIC 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, 2000 to 2018, May Quarter.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census – employment, income and unpaid work, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

  • Employment level by 1 digit Retail Trade Industry and Wholesale Trade Industry, and 4 digit level occupations to identify the relevant VET-related occupations in the industry as a proportion of the total workforce.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training packages or qualifications:

  • SIR and WRR Training Packages
    • SIR10107 - Certificate I in Retail Services
    • SIR10116 - Certificate I in Retail Services
    • SIR10112 - Certificate I in Retail Services
    • SIR20207 - Certificate II in Retail
    • SIR20212 - Certificate II in Retail Services
    • SIR20216 - Certificate II in Retail Services
    • SIR20312 - Certificate II in Retail Fast Food
    • WRR20102 - Certificate II in Retail Operations
    • SIR30316 - Certificate III in Business to Business Sales
    • SIR30412 - Certificate III in Business to Business Sales
    • SIR30207 - Certificate III in Retail
    • SIR30212 - Certificate III in Retail Operations
    • SIR30216 - Certificate III in Retail
    • SIR30312 - Certificate III in Retail Supervision
    • WRR30202 - Certificate III in Retail Operations
    • SIR40207 - Certificate IV in Retail Management
    • SIR40212 - Certificate IV in Retail Management
    • SIR40316 - Certificate IV in Retail Management
    • SIR50112 - Diploma of Retail Management
    • SIR50116 - Diploma of Retail Leadership
    • SIR50107 - Diploma of Retail Management
    • SIR50207 - Diploma of Visual Merchandising
    • SIR50212 - Diploma of Visual Merchandising
    • SIR80112 - Graduate Certificate in Retail Leadership.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 program enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 subject enrolments
  • 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

SIR and WRR Training Packages apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2018 commencements
  • 2010 to 2018 completions
  • 2018 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2018 collection, by qualification and state and territory.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Wholesale and Retail IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2019, Labour Insight Real-time Labour Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2019,

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2016 and June 2019 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

  • Generic skills/Occupations
    • Retail Trade.
  • Employers
    • 621111 Sales Assistant (General)
    • 142111 Retail Manager (General)
    • 611399 Sales Representatives nec
    • 541211 Information Officer
    • 621511 Retail Supervisor
    • Retail Trade.
Updated: 02 Apr 2020
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