The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified existing trends in the growth of e-commerce, online shopping and fast fashion, resulting in serious challenges for high-street stores. Thousands of jobs have been lost in fashion retail following company collapses or takeovers by online fashion brands such as Boohoo and Asos (Eley and Wright, 2019; Eley, 2021).
At the same time there has been a rapid increase in job vacancies in the transport, logistics and warehouse sector in 2021. Emerging evidence suggests that the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant rise in economic inactivity with workers leaving the labour force promoting labour shortages (Brewer et al.,2021).
The closure of high street stores potentially forecloses a key source of women’s employment and possible displacement by male jobs in warehouses, distribution centres and delivery (Johnes, 2018).
This shift also has implications for younger workers who are disproportionally represented in retail (ONS, 2021). COVID-19 and Brexit has potential impacts for migrant worker employment in warehouses and distribution. Labour shortages may promote automation, although there is a trade-off between the costs of labour and automation. Rather than replacing labour, there may be wider use of technology monitoring worker performance.
The wider literature calls for qualitative research examining individual level experiences of employment trajectories which takes contextual conditions into account (Egdell and Beck, 2020). The research presented in this report offers a labour market analysis, alongside worker interviews. The labour market analysis examines the composition of workforces and labour market flux during the pandemic.
The interviews reflect the lived experiences of the changing nature of work, examining terms and conditions, the impact of automation and technology on work, and workplace representation.
With evidence of post-COVID-19 occupational and sectoral transitions, this is a key moment to explore the changing nature and content of work, and potential renegotiated divisions of labour on the basis of gender, age and race and ethnicity.
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