NRF Foundation Boosts Training Initiative to Fill Retail Jobs

July 24, 2018

America's labor pool isn't big enough or skilled enough to fill the vast number of unfilled retail jobs.

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By David Moin

As the economy expands and the unemployment rate drops, retail positions in the U.S. are getting tougher to fill.

“With more job openings in the United States than unemployed workers to fill them, creating a skilled workforce, ready and able to secure meaningful employment in the retail industry, is more important than ever,” said National Retail Federation Foundation president Ellen Davis. In many cases, Davis said, those eager to fill retail jobs lack the required skills or experience.

Last year, the NRF Foundation launched “RISE Up,” a training and credentialing initiative to help people get jobs in retail, promote retailing as a career and cast positive perceptions on the industry, which is sometimes viewed as being low paying at the entry level and requiring years of long, hard hours before advancing up the wage scale.

This month, the NRF Foundation augmented the effort by increasing investments in its “Retail Industry Fundamentals” course, transforming it into a mobile, 10-hour program  teaching people many of the new skills, as well as the fundamentals, to take on entry-level jobs in the fast-evolving retail industry. It’s a refinement from a past education tool that wasn’t as user-friendly as it could have been. RISE stands for Retail Industry Skills and Education.

The program is in conjunction with Penn Foster, an education provider helping people start careers in retailing and other sectors by providing training programs to learn at your own pace, online or in classrooms. The curriculum was created in conjunction with retailers, and the NRF Foundation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 742,000 retail job listings last May. Economy-wide, there were 6.9 million job postings and 6.6 million unemployed people seeking to fill those jobs. The national unemployment rate stood at 4 percent as of June.

“There’s a widespread assumption that anyone can find a job in retail and retailers will hire anybody. But when you talk to companies, you find out that that’s not the case,” Davis said. “It’s not necessarily easy for anyone to get a job in retail. In many areas, the skills that people have are not keeping pace with jobs that exist today. We want to make sure people have the right skills.”

According to the NRF, recent research suggests that employers need to rethink entry-level training and that it’s especially critical as technological changes make entry-level work more complex and dependent on soft skills like teamwork and communication.

The program is geared to help individuals in many areas such as sales, returns, merchandising and fulfillment that require new types of skills. “It covers everything from customer service skills, to pricing, promotion, product and presentation.” Jobs in distribution centers, corporate headquarters, and on the selling floors are in many cases changing the most dramatically, Davis added. “At the store level, you need people who have this interesting balance of customer savviness and digital savviness.”

Individuals can register themselves for the curriculum, which costs $99 for the training, interactive exercises and the exam. “The curriculum can be done in bits and pieces. It’s harder than you may think,” Davis said. Retailers can use the program as a hiring tool or as a retention tool, she added. The current program has a “much more relevant and succinct user experience,” than a past curriculum which was too long and too hard, Davis said. “We changed the training. We changed the test. It’s a dramatic refinement.”

“This credential’s employer-led curriculum and digital delivery platform create unprecedented opportunity for job-seekers and underemployed workers to access training in career-relevant skills,” said Dara Warn, chief operating officer at Penn Foster.

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