First choice or fallback option? The attractiveness of South Africa’s retail industry for Gen Y members


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The wholesale and retail industry is the fourth largest contributor to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product. However, it faces the major challenge of attracting highly skilled and motivated workers. Although South African universities launched programs in retail management, attracting young talents to a career in retailing remains a tough challenge. Drawing on previous findings from the field of graduate decision-making and industry image from other countries, this research examines the perceptions and expectations of Gen Y members with regard to their field of study and their prospective career. A nationwide survey with 1363 South African first year students, in their first week at university, shows significant differences between freshmen enrolled in retail business management and those enrolled in other business majors. While retail students, as compared to other participants, tend to hold stronger positive associations with their field of study and a retail career, majoring in retailing appears to be a fallback option. Over all participants, the analysis reveals that the perception of retailing careers primarily exceeds expectations on attributes that are only of minor importance. When it comes to important career attributes like payment, work-life balance and advancement issues, the retail image lags behind that of other industries. Comparing the field of study with the preferred industry, we identify four different segments of students that qualify to be targeted by companies and universities in different ways.

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    • Figure 1. Student-retail relationships
    • Table 1. Demographics
    • Table 2. Current field of study
    • Table 3. TOP 3 consideration set of majors
    • Table 4. Role of various information sources for study decision
    • Table 5. Retail and non-retail students’ ratings of information sources
    • Table 6. Students’ preferred industry after graduation
    • Table 7. Students’ reasons for study choice
    • Table 8. Importance ratings and image of retail career
    • Table 9. Retail and non-retail students’ ratings of retail career image