By Daniel Hunter

Retail employment rose by 2.9% in the third quarter of 2012 compared with a year earlier, the fastest growth in two years — equivalent to 20,533 additional full-time jobs in our sampled retailers.

This news from the British Retail Consortium comes on the same day that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that the economy grew by 1% for the three months ending September.

The increase in jobs was driven by part-time workers, particularly in the grocery sector. The number of outlets and full-time jobs fell in non-food retailing.

68% of retailers suggested that they would increase staffing levels in the run-up to Christmas. Retailers' employment intentions have improved year-on-year.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "The strongest retail jobs growth for two years looks like another reason for optimism. With good news about employment generally, signs that disposable incomes, consumer spending and inflation are moving in the right direction and expectations that we're about to see GDP growth return to positive territory, there's a sense that things could be getting better. That offers hope as the crucial Christmas trading period gathers pace.

"But it's important not to get too carried away. Our headline figures hide wide variations in retail performance. All the growth in jobs and shop numbers is coming from the food sector. In non-food retailing employment is flat and shops are closing down.

"It's vital the Government supports stronger and more widespread growth, rather than choking it off. After two huge increases in two years, Business Rates should be frozen next April to avoid more boarded up shops and fewer employment opportunities, especially for young people."

Christina Tolvas-Vincent, Head of Retail Employment at business law firm Bond Pearce, said: "We can look at these figures with cautious optimism; 20,500 extra jobs is certainly good news but it masks the divided fortunes of the food and non-food retailers. It may also reflect, in part, the impact of the Olympics and the extra hours of Sunday Trading during that time. The fall in the number of unemployed 16-24 year olds would certainly seem to fit with an increase in temporary jobs available in this unique period.

"There should be a few good trading months ahead in the run up to Christmas and over two thirds of retailers intend to make the most of this by taking on more staff. Whether it will be enough to revive non-food retailers is unclear, the number of stores continue to fall in this area, there have been a number of high profile failures and there has been no growth in the number of workers. In the New Year, when everyone traditionally tightens their belts, and there is no Jubilee or Olympics for the nation to focus on, it will no doubt be the non-food retailers that will be most concerned."