Dr. King’s “I have a dream” legacy inspires HB 2019

Jan 20, 2022
|
Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services
|

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech continues to inspire and is a reminder that his vision continues to require diligent work from all sectors, systems, and communities to realize his dream.

In the last two years, many retailers have intentionally changed business practices to be more inclusive. Changes involve how they approach advertising to respect the diversity in our communities, how they actively source merchandise from diverse ethnic groups, and the modification of their hiring and training practices so individuals can grow and thrive regardless of their background.

The WR board adopted four principles under our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Initiative with action steps to further these principles. According to national data, the retail industry is the fourth largest employer of immigrants, and 34 percent of the retail workforce consists of people of color. One important step WR has taken is the promotion of retail workforce training.

Our review of workforce training offerings and conversations with stakeholders revealed that our state has a strong career connect program for young people to explore, learn, and earn money and college-level credit with work-based learning programs.

Currently, there are no pathways specific to retail careers and no support for students and entry-level job seekers directing them towards a career in retail.

Retail work offers foundational training for strong customer service skills, which is the single most essential skill employers are looking for in new hires, according to research from the Washington Employment Security Department.

Since the retail industry provided 42 percent of the state’s total tax collections in 2019 and employed approximately 385,000 people across the state, providing career-connect and upskilling opportunities are vital to advancing equity.

Representative Boehnke introduced a Retail Workforce bill (HB 2019) to promote retail workforce training for students, job seekers, incumbent frontline workers, and ex-inmates on this year’s Martin Luther King Day. This bill has already received support from both sides of the aisle.

This bill intends to help employees succeed in retail and provide a skilled workforce for retail employers. Stakeholders will benefit from increasing and identifying education and training opportunities for careers in the retail industry. These job skills are also transferrable and stackable—essential for all industries and occupations.

The targeted recipients of retail workforce training are students, job seekers, incumbent frontline workers, and ex-inmates. Advancing career connect opportunities for students and promoting training for frontline workers will lead them to the multiple career pathways within the retail industry.