NEW YORK — The National Retail Federation kicked off its recent Big Show conference here with a discussion of the industry’s changing jobs picture, and the launch of an initiative meant to help stores and retailers find and retain the employees they will need to succeed in the future.
“The jobs in the retail industry are changing pretty considerably,” said Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer Greg Foran, noting that technology is changing the skill sets needed for jobs at all levels of the company, from merchandise buyers to warehouse workers.
“One of the things we have to do is determine where our business is going, and sort out what are the skills and resources that will be required.”
Foran, along with Macy’s Inc. chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren and Ashley Stewart executive chairman and CEO James Rhee, participated in a panel discussion called “Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: How Retailers Are Attracting and Retaining Talent.”
The backdrop for the discussion, according to NRF, includes the fact that the retail industry is the largest private sector employer in the United States, accounting for nearly one in four jobs. Retailers have added some 500,000 jobs since 2012, and they are expected to add another 1 million by 2022.
But NRF warns that the number of hires has not kept pace with this job growth, and that retailers face a skills shortage as the industry becomes increasingly sophisticated and high-tech.
To help address the skills gap the industry faces, the NRF Foundation has launched a training and credentialing initiative that is meant to provide retailers with a pool of potential employees who can succeed and move up at their companies.
Called RISE Up — RISE stands for Retail Industry Skills and Education — the initiative launched with the support of 21 retail companies, including BJ’s Wholesale Club, Kroger Co., Target Corp. and Walmart.
“Good jobs change lives, and retail doesn’t just provide first jobs, but opportunities for lifelong careers,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in announcing the program. “RISE Up helps the people who need it the most, and helps retailers address recurring talent challenges — including reducing the time needed to hire and train new associates and decreasing turnover.”
RISE Up offers a 15-module training program called Retail Industry Fundamentals, which is designed to teach people about retail tools and technologies, customer service, retail math, inventory and interview skills. The training can be delivered in a classroom or online, and it can be provided to prospective retail employees by the NRF Foundation’s nonprofit and public education partners. Those who complete the course will have the skills and confidence to get a start on a successful career in retailing, and they can pass an exam to get a credential for their resume. Retail companies can also use the program to train and advance existing employees.
“Retail is such a dynamic industry — it offers great jobs, flexibility and the ability to learn new skills and grow a career,” Foran said. “Walmart is proud to work with the NRF Foundation and other retailers to explore new ways to attract, train and retain talent. This is a critical time for the industry, and it’s important that we all focus on giving our people the tools to succeed and the ability to move up.”
Initial funding for the development of RISE Up was made possible by a capacity-building grant from the Walmart Foundation.
In his remarks, Foran detailed some of the steps Walmart is taking to train, advance and retain its workforce.
The retailer has raised its base pay for store associates to $9 an hour, and that increases to at least $10 an hour once the associate has successfully completed a new, six-month Pathways training program.
Walmart is also opening new training academies across the country, and it expects to have 200 of the facilities up and running by year-end. The academies are designed to provide frontline hourly supervisors and assistant store managers with hands-on training in retail fundamentals, as well as leadership skills and the particulars of running their store departments.
“Each academy is located next to a store, and that store becomes a store of excellence,” Foran said. “It’s a big deal.”
Other initiatives address employee retention and providing store associates with the right tools, including mobile devices, to help them do their jobs more efficiently. Foran said that successfully enhancing its retail jobs “won’t just be better for Walmart, but will be better for the industry as a whole.”