UK retail job opportunities are rising, but at the slowest rate since 2009, says the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

The number of full-time jobs in the sector increased by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period the year before, but the number of outlets grew by 5.3 per cent.

This translates to an extra 3,400 retail posts and an additional 837 shops since March 2010.

However, the outlook for the sector appeared bleak, with 29 per cent of retail employers indicating they would decrease staffing levels, compared with 8 per cent this time last year.

“These figures confirm just how tough the trading environment is,” said Stephen Robertson, BRC director-general.

“Retail is still creating more jobs than other sectors but numbers for the quarter rose at their slowest rate since this survey began at the end of 2009.

“Consumer demand is weak and retailers, looking ahead and trying to keep their operating costs down, are less optimistic about future employment.”

The most recent labour market statistics showed an unexpected drop in the UK’s unemployment rate, which fell slightly to 7.8 per cent.

But youth unemployment is still of particular concern – with the number of 16- and 17-year-olds out of work reaching a 19-year high.

“Retail is the largest private-sector employer and, with over a third of its workforce aged under 25, any growth provides important opportunities for the young unemployed who are particularly struggling to find work,” added Robertson.