The retail industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing employment sectors in the UK. With the economy growing and record numbers of people in work, grocery retailers have the potential to give many more people their first step on the career ladder.

Helping young people into work is one of my greatest priorities - that is why I was delighted to sign a partnership with the BRC to work together to get more people, especially under-25s, into retail careers. We signed the agreement at the Waltham Forest Jobcentre youth hub, where young people heard from representatives from the BRC and big employers like Sainsbury’s about the opportunities available.

“Businesses have a key role to play in giving young people a chance”

Representing as it does the whole range of retailers - from large businesses such as Sainsbury’s and department stores through to indies - the BRC is an ideal partner to help raise the profile of a career in retail.

It was great to hear from the young people at the event about their aspirations and I was struck by the enthusiasm they have for getting their foot in the door to a fulfilling career in retail and working their way up.

They in turn were impressed by the wide range of jobs available - some of which they’d never considered from a career in retail - from roles on the shop floor to positions in areas such as HR, finance, logistics, marketing, advertising, as well as buyers, lawyers, accountants, admin, managers, designers and many more.

UK retailers are also using cutting-edge technology to get their products to consumers and need people with digital and IT skills to make that happen. So it is more important than ever that young people have the right skills and experience to get their foot on the first rung of the career ladder. That is why we introduced the Youth Contract, which provides a huge boost to the number of work experience and sector-based work academy places available, along with offering employers wage incentives to take on a young person on benefits.

So far the Youth Contract has provided over 200,000 opportunities for young people, including a commitment by employers to take on over 65,000 long-term unemployed young people through the wage incentive.

All young people should grow up believing they will have the opportunity to have a fulfilling career. But businesses have a valuable role to play too - by opening their doors and giving young people a chance.

This month’s employment figures show we now have the highest employment rate for five years, which shows that the growing economy is helping record numbers of people find a job. The rise in employment is being fuelled by businesses and entrepreneurs that are feeling increasingly confident with the improving economy. They should be congratulated for creating more than 1.7 million private sector jobs since 2010.

Youth unemployment is falling and there are lots of opportunities for people who want to work hard and get on. I would like to encourage as many businesses as possible to join us and help ensure young people are able to fulfil their potential.

Esther McVey is minister for employment