British professionals are just as likely to wish for a high-stakes career in the armed forces as they are to desire a job in the retail sector, a new survey has shown.

The results suggest that retail leaders could be doing more to communicate the appeal of careers in this field – especially at a time when the global COVID-19 crisis is shining a spotlight on the importance of the retail and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector like never before.

In the nationwide survey – commissioned by The People Pod – a total of 786 respondents were asked to place themselves in a scenario where they could start a career from scratch in any sector, with money and training being no object. Of those polled, only 15 respondents included the retail/FMCG sector as one of their choices, representing just over 3% of the total votes cast.

While more than 20% of respondents selected options such as charity work, healthcare and the arts, retail languished near the very bottom of the rankings, with the same percentage of votes as the armed forces – a rewarding career in itself but one that is typically unpopular due to the sacrifices and potential danger involved.

This is despite the fact that the research revealed that a majority of workers employed in the retail sector are actually very satisfied with their roles, and would actively recommend their career to others.

The survey showed that most retail workers are pleased with their choice of role. Among respondents in retail jobs, almost two thirds (65%) said they were very happy or quite happy with their current job, while 57% said they were very proud or quite proud to work for their employer.

Additionally, 58% said they were very or quite likely to recommend their workplace to a friend or family member, indicating that any reputational issues affecting the retail industry are based on preconceived notions, rather than the actual experiences of those within it.

Mark Hargreaves, director at The People Pod, said these results show that retail bosses have work to do to demonstrate how rewarding and meaningful careers in this sector can be.

“Retail work is often unfairly written off as unglamorous or menial – but the response to the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated just how important these workers can be, and what a vital role they play in the economy,” he said.

“Our survey shows that most retail workers are happy and proud to play their part. As such, it now falls on employers and recruiters to change perceptions and really demonstrate this appeal to prospective candidates who may not otherwise have considered a role in the sector.

“By focusing on the social importance, strong team spirit and job satisfaction associated with retail work, businesses can ensure that they are able to keep these roles filled with enthusiastic applicants – all the way through to the end of the current crisis, and beyond.”