NRF Foundation unveils retail education, credentialing program

Dive Brief:

  • The NRF Foundation on Sunday announced a new retail training and credentialing initiative at the National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show conference in New York City.
  • The RISE Up (Retail Industry Skills & Education) effort brings together 21 merchants (including Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Target, Neiman Marcus and Under Armour) who’ve pledged to help individuals secure the skills and training they need to land jobs in the retail sector, regardless of their educational background, economic means or age.
  • RISE Up kicks off with Retail Industry Fundamentals, a 15-module formal training program (administered either in real-world classrooms or online) designed to introduce entry-level associates in stores, distribution centers and call centers to core retail technologies and tools, as well as customer service, retail math, inventory and interview skills.

Dive Insight:

Retail accounts for about one in four American jobs, but with the expectations and demands of the 21st century workforce evolving, retailers are taking steps to better train and compensate their associates.

Wal-Mart — the nation’s largest employer, with 1.5 million staffers across the U.S. — has in recent years made significant investments in personnel: In 2015, the retailer raised starting wages for full-time store employees to $9, or about $18,700 a year, while new hires can climb to $10-$13 an hour after completing a six-month training program. In an addition, a range of retailers have eliminated on-call scheduling practices notorious for making life difficult for workers who are trying to manage households, attend school or work additional jobs.

But retailers are still struggling to attract and retain talent, especially at the associate level. The retail sector has about a 60% turnover rate. “It’s a lot easier to retain at the executive level,” Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said Sunday during the Big Show opening keynote. “You’ve got to make sure your team is exposed to opportunities within your company. [To recruit], you’ve also got to get out and talk about company, your culture and what’s important to you. You have to get outside your box.”

RISE Up represents an attempt to bring new, untapped talent into the retail industry, and offer ongoing support and training for promising staffers already within a company’s ranks. “In order for us to ensure success in future, you’ve got to look at what you’re doing today and adapt,” Wal-Mart U.S. President and CEO Greg Foran said at Sunday’s keynote. “We all recognize a changing world, and that’s why we’re investing in this.”

The NRF Foundation spent roughly 18 months developing RISE Up, which was made possible by a capacity-building grant from the Walmart Foundation, which also announced today that it is donating another $2 million to fund an impact study that will track the effectiveness of the credentialing program. The new initiative is available through nonprofit and public education partners and it can also be used directly by retail companies to train and advance existing employees and it provides an industry standard for core retail skills. The Retail Industry Fundamentals program costs $50 per individual: The NRF Foundation said it expects employers, schools or nonprofits to cover the majority of those costs.

Kathleen McLaughlin, Wal-Mart Foundation president and Wal-Mart chief sustainability officer, told Retail Dive that Wal-Mart spent a year looking at retail jobs and asking themselves one key question: “What could we do as a retailer, given we have a lot of retail jobs and an understanding of what’s required for people to succeed, that would accelerate the mobility of people from entry level jobs to jobs of higher responsibility and authority, management jobs. What would that look like?” The program, she added, is about creating economic, environmental and social value for business and society. 

Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide, a nonprofit dedicated to providing professional attire to disadvantaged women seeking employment, applauded RISE Up’s launch. “We need formal education around workplace development,” Gordon said Sunday. “This is not only going to help women land jobs, but help them keep jobs, and thrive in the workplace.”

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Filed Under: Corporate News
Top image credit: Wal-Mart