WR team promotes frontline retail workforce training

Sep 16, 2021
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Written by Washington Retail
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Governor Inslee’s 2021 September Retail Career Month proclamation includes research data showing the essential services immigrants and people of color contribute to serving consumers in retail, especially during the pandemic. For this reason, Washington Retail has incorporated retail workforce training as one of the action items under the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Initiative.

Retail frontline employees’ wage growth has outpaced other industry groups in the private sector since the pandemic began in March 2020. The demand for frontline employees has been staying

strong regardless of COVID safety protocols.

However, negative perceptions regarding retail jobs persist as there have been few regional retail career conversations. The truth is that the retail industry offers a multitude of career pathways for a broad spectrum of talent and passions. According to ESD data, retail jobs offer the best training ground for customer service skills, which is the #1 skill employers seek.

These beliefs create a systemic barrier as it perpetuates disincentive for educators to promote opportunities in this sector and results in limited funding for frontline retail workforce training. WR is working hard to remove the misperception that a retail career offers low pay and lacks growth opportunities.

In August, the Washington Retail team has been on the road speaking on the importance of “investing in the retail workforce” to advance equity and opportunities within retail. Rick Means, Director of Safety and Education, partnered with the National Retail Foundation to present the RISE Up curriculum at Spokane’s Washington Association for Career and Technical Education conference. Besides certificates on Retail Industry Fundamentals, Customer Service & Sales, Business of Retail modules, Warehouse, Inventory & Logistics Certificate is the latest addition to this curriculum.

Our VP of Operations and Retail Services, Rose Gundersen, was invited to the Gig Harbor Chamber’s August luncheon to speak on this topic to initiate a local retail career advancement conversation. The Gig Harbor Chamber board and staff responded positively, and we are grateful to learn their Education Committee intends to collaborate with us in the coming months.

While attending the Council of Retail Association’s annual conference in Annapolis, Maryland, last week, Renée Sunde, President and CEO, and Rose Gundersen shared the importance of retail workforce training as they took part in a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) panel. It was an exciting exchange of promising practices to advance DEI with our Minnesota and North Carolina colleagues.

Advancing frontline retail career training will advance opportunities for frontline employees where people of color are highly represented in comparison to retail management positions. Providing upskilling opportunities will also benefit retail employers who are still struggling to fill key jobs as the industry recovers.