From Cashier to CTO: How Retail Prepares Workers for Careers in Tech

Published on May 20, 2019

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

From Cashier to CTO: How Retail Prepares Workers for Careers in Tech

Everyone shops. Whether it’s online or in-store, weekly grocery trips or holiday spending sprees, we’re all intimately acquainted with retail.

But what many might not realize is that retail represents a broad, complex ecosystem of jobs that goes beyond the cashiers, shelf stockers, and sales associates who help customers in stores. Behind the frontlines of every successful retailer is an indispensable trove of people in marketing, logistics, supply chain, user experience, and more.

While working in retail, all of these workers gain useful, foundational skills that can translate into other industries—including computers and technology.

New research from Emsi and the National Retail Federation dives into the relationship between retail and technology. Specifically, we examine how retail skills gained in the following frontline retail jobs directly relate to the skills needed in the following computer and tech jobs.

Firmly refuting the idea that retail is irrelevant in an increasingly tech-driven economy, the Emsi and NRF report drives home two key messages:

  1. Frontline retail careers overlap with technology roles

  2. Working in retail can fast-track a career in technology

Retail jobs provide human skills

In the face of automation, employers recognize the growing need for common, or “human,” skills. In fact, human skills like communication, leadership, and problem solving are among the most in-demand skills in the labor market right now.

There is certainly no shortage of human skills among retail workers—which makes sense given the amount of human interaction most frontline retail jobs require. In the graphic below, we can see the top common skills in retail jobs, including those listed in job postings (red) and those listed in resumes and profiles (yellow).

Now, let’s compare that to the top common skills required in technology jobs. Note the many similarities, including management, communications, operations, and leadership.

Retail and technology jobs are compatible

Both sectors (retail and technology) are requesting the same skill sets, and the roles are generally compatible. Using Emsi’s compatibility index (driven by Department of Labor O*NET data), we see that entry level retail roles and technology careers have significant compatibility driven by the importance of common or soft skills prevalent in retail careers.

Retail jobs help workers advance faster

Not only do retail jobs provide compatible, human skills, but they also help tech workers move up the career ladder faster.

For example, a software developer with a background in retail is nearly 8% more likely to be promoted to a managerial role than a developer without a retail background. Web developers with a retail background are over 6% more likely to be promoted to a managerial role than those with a non-retail background.

The chart below demonstrates how a frontline retail background affects the likelihood of promotion to a managerial role for different technology jobs.


Download the report

The results from our joint research effort with NRF demonstrate that retail workers learn valuable skills that can translate to countless industries—including technology. Retail experience also helps workers advance more quickly in their careers.

To learn more about the connection between retail and technology, download the full report by filling out the form below.

For more information about Emsi or our data, please contact Cara Christopher at