Retail & Hospitality


Have you considered a career in retail or hospitality but been put off by the negative stereotypes? A career in retail is not just stacking shelves over and over again, and a career in hospitality isn’t just serving people their dinner in a restaurant.

The retail and hospitality industry are two of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers. There around 9,800 retail businesses in Northern Ireland, of which 79% employ less than 10 people. Employment within the NI retail industry is approximately 82,393 people, which accounts for around 10% of all employment in the country.

Northern Ireland’s hospitality sector is also thriving, contributing over £1.1bn to the local economy and employing 60,000 people. If you are a looking for a career where you can progress through the ranks, both of these industries offer strong career progression opportunities.


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With retail and hospitality being such massive industries in Northern Ireland, there are lots of different routes available to you when you decide to enter these industries. From five-star hotels such as the Grand Central Hotel Belfast, to international retailers such as Topshop or Primark who employ thousands of staff across the UK, there is no shortage of choice if you decide you want to enter these two industries.

One of the more well-known graduate employers is McDonald’s. The company’s graduate scheme is renowned across the UK. At McDonald’s as a trainee manager you can earn between £21,500 and £24,500, and upon completing the programme, you will become a second assistant manager, with opportunities for further progression.

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60,000 people are employed in the hospitality in NI hospitality sector, and 45,000 are employed in the food and drink sector

The hospitality industry contributes £1.1bn to the local economy

Northern Ireland spends more on clothing and footwear than any other UK region

The retail industry accounts for 10% of employment within Northern Ireland, coming in at around 82,393 people

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In both industries, depending on your job role, you could get paid an hourly rate or an annual salary. If you are starting off at an entry level job, such as a retail assistant or a waiter/waitress, you are likely to be paid an hourly rate which will vary with each employer. You can check the minimum wage for your age here.

In retail, salaries for graduate schemes are likely to be higher than salaries for entry level positions, and may start around £18,000 – £20,000, again; it depends on the role and the employer. The benefit of a graduate scheme is that after successfully completing the programme (which usually lasts around 2 years), you will likely receive a pay rise and a promotion.

In hospitality, graduate management salaries can start around £18,000 and can rise to £25,000. This is dependent on who the scheme is with. For example, if you get on a graduate scheme with a large restaurant chain or hotel group, you could be paid more than compared with a smaller company. The salary will also depend on your job role and the function of the business you are operating in, e.g.: are you in a back-office role such as HR, or are you a trainee manager on the shop floor? Salaries will vary depending on the industry standard for those types of roles in that specific sector.

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Store Manager
Trainee Manager
Department Manager
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Hotel Manager
Event Organiser
Restaurant Manager
Catering Manager
Conference Manager
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Both of these industries do not require a degree for you to enter them. In both you could enter as a school leaver and work your way up over a number of years to a management position. However, there are benefits to having a degree.


In retail, a degree could get you a place on a graduate scheme, in which you could enter already in a management position. This type of graduate scheme usually attracts students from the area of business and fashion, although some may just ask for a degree in any discipline. The graduate scheme could be a general management one in which you go in as a trainee manager, learning the ropes in all things retail. Or alternatively, you could enter in as a fashion buyer or merchandiser or in a company’s distribution network. The schemes usually involve rotation around the different areas of the business, helping you get a more rounded understanding of the business’s operations and how it all fits in together.


The hospitality industry is similar to retail in that graduate schemes are also available, usually for management positions. This sector covers such as range of sectors, such as bars, restaurants and hotels, and so a graduate scheme in each will have very different duties and responsibilities. You are more likely to find hospitality graduate schemes for larger chains than smaller local firms, e.g: the likes of Premier Inn, for example.

Many people who have risen to management in this industry have worked their way up. So whilst a degree may not be necessary if you want to progress, a benefit of having one and doing a graduate scheme is that it can ‘fast-track’ you to a management position quicker than if you were to enter at an entry level.

Whilst there aren’t specific degrees in retail, you can study a variety of business degrees which will give you an insight into how the industry works. You could study Business Studies, Marketing, Human Resources or Business Management.

If hospitality is more your thing, Ulster University offer a variety of suitable courses, such as International Hospitality Management, International Travel & Tourism or Leisure & Events Management.

Courses Available

Ulster Uni

Ulster University

15+ Courses
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Northern Regional College

2+ Courses
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Belfast Met

Belfast Met

11+ Courses
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Industry Partners

Institute of Hospitality

The Institute of Hospitality is the professional body for managers and aspiring managers in the hospitality, leisure and tourism industry worldwide.

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