2018 Global Responsibility Report

Providing great jobs and inclusive advancement in retail

We're pursuing four strategies as we work to increase retail opportunity.

Sparking a movement across retail

We believe that frontline retail jobs can be a launch pad for mobility and advancement—a place where the barriers to getting a job are low and people from all backgrounds can quickly develop the skills to advance.

The sector’s unique strengths give it the potential to be an even more effective workforce incubator. First, retail provides broad access to stable, entry- level jobs. Second, retail workers learn valuable skills starting from day one; technology and innovation, for example, are integral to frontline jobs. Finally, these skills can lead to advancement both in retail and in adjacent sectors. As of January 31, 2018, more than three-quarters of our store management teams started as hourly workers.

With this in mind, three years ago Walmart and the Walmart Foundation launched the Retail Opportunity Initiative, a five-year, $100 million philanthropic effort aimed at improving both the reality and the perception of frontline retail jobs in the U.S. as a pathway to advancement.

Through the end of FY2018, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have invested more than $80 million in grants and collaborated with leading nonprofits, employers, government agencies and educational institutions to identify and implement innovations aimed at increasing the economic mobility of retail and related-sector workers.

In 2015, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation launched the Retail Opportunity Initiative, a five-year, $100 million philanthropic effort aimed at improving both the reality and perception of frontline retail jobs in the U.S. as a pathway to advancement.

As we work to accelerate career advancement for retail workers, we are focusing on the following strategies:

1. Raising the profile of retail as a sector of opportunity
2. Building effective and innovative approaches to retail training and advancement
3. Engaging retail employers to improve the ecosystem

Raising the profile of retail as a sector of opportunity
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation aim to reset assumptions about frontline retail jobs as springboards to opportunity. By funding research and facilitating dialogue among thought leaders in our Retail Opportunity Network, we are supporting the development of insights into how retail jobs can help incumbent workers build new skills and advance. We are engaged in a number of forums regarding workforce development and the future of work in retail, including at the Aspen Institute, the Rework America Task Force and the Concordia Annual Summit.

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Creating system-level change in a sector as big, complex and fast-changing as retail requires innovative new approaches. We worked with others to create the Retail Opportunity Network (RON), a peer learning community led by Hope Street Group. This network comprises all of our grantees, who collaborate and share insights—essentially crowd sourcing solutions and elevating those that are most effective to the top of the collective agenda. More than 50 organizations drawn from NGOs, workforce development agencies and nonprofits are now members, all focused on developing strategies for frontline retail workers to advance in their careers. Learn more here.

Understanding who works in retail. While the retail sector’s low barrier to entry can be an asset in getting people into formal work, it can also create a need for building basic skills on the job. With funding from the Walmart Foundation, the National Skills Coalition conducted research to better understand the skill level of frontline retail and service sector workers. The Coalition found that the majority of these workers have fundamental skills gaps—62 percent have limited literacy skills, and 74 percent have limited numeracy skills. Learn more about the research here.

Understanding the desire for career pathways. Like most employees, retail workers want opportunities to advance. Through Walmart-funded research, FSG found young people are more than twice as likely to stay at their job for more than a year if they see that job as a stepping stone to a career—but in FSG’s survey, only 35 percent of young people working in hourly jobs in retail and other sectors described their current job as a career stepping stone.

Identifying skills that can be developed in frontline retail jobs. Over half the U.S. workforce has worked in retail. The skills learned in retail, from customer service to managing teams to real time problem solving, can help workers advance both within the sector and in the broader economy. Broderick Johnson, an attorney who has worked for two U.S. presidents, recently told an interviewer that his first job as a retail clerk taught him to show up every day, treat customers with respect and be a team player. “Those are skills that made me successful then, but have certainly carried on throughout my career,” Johnson said.

Walmart has funded research (for example, through McKinsey Generation and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning) to identify the skills that frontline retail workers typically gain on the job, and to understand which of those skills are relevant to advance within retail or other sectors.

Over 1/2 the U.S. workforce has worked in retail.

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Enabling retail advancement in Japan

In Japan, young people who are regarded as NEET (Not in Employment, Education & Training), especially those from low-income families, often lack opportunities for gaining the skills necessary for finding jobs and entering the workforce. Seiyu, our Japanese business, has made grants of more than $175,000 to provide job training to NEET youths from low-income families. Besides training, Walmart aims to instill respect for individuals of all backgrounds and to promote social inclusion and economic empowerment for these youths. One grantee was Sodateage.net, a nonprofit that works with unemployed youth. Sodateage worked with Seiyu to create a program called Seiyu Pack, which provides participants with 3.5 months of job training as well as in-store training at Seiyu stores and ongoing support. The program launched in 2013. Of the 66 youths who have participated, 51 have been offered jobs, including 25 who have become Seiyu associates, as of December 2017.

Determining what practices support retention and advancement of incumbent workers. There is limited publicly available information about the practices that drive frontline retention and advancement. To help solve this, Walmart has invested in efforts such as an FSG scan of secondary research to synthesize best practices for improving retention among frontline employees.

Building effective and innovative approaches to retail training and advancement
Walmart is investing in training and other initiatives that help retail workers develop the skills that will enable them to advance within the sector or in adjacent sectors. To date, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have provided funding for training or related services such as coaching or tech tools to more than 50,000 prospective and current retail workers beyond Walmart—supporting innovative new approaches that can enhance the economic mobility of workers.

Using technology to teach skills. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have invested in efforts to develop more effective approaches to training and credentialing for incumbent workers. Examples of this work include:

  • EdX’s “micro-learning” Walmart has provided funding to support edX’s new program to transform higher education by lowering the time and cost of college through career-relevant, industry endorsed, modular online courses that are high quality and low-cost with open admission through a MicroBachelors Program. The goal of the pilot program is to target learners who have a high school diploma but find college too expensive, or those who need new skills but not a full college degree to launch or move up in their career.
  • Goodwill Industry International’s Good Paths program provides career navigation for frontline retail workers.
  • The New Venture Fund’s Employment Technology Fund makes grants and loans to companies and non-profits using technology to address the major barriers faced by struggling adult learners.

Signaling job readiness. Once workers acquire skills, they need a way to certify those skills in order to advance in their careers. Today, the primary model of credentialing is the two- or four-year college degree. Frontline workers, however, need faster and better ways to signal competency in their specific skills. We believe employer- recognized credentials that can be acquired on the job, transferred across employers and that open pathways to more advanced credentials must be an important piece of the system. The Walmart Foundation is funding a number of programs in this area, such as the League for Innovation in the Community College, which is partnering with the Western Association of Food Chains to make the Retail Management Certificate easier to attain by retail workers.

Engaging retail employers to improve the ecosystem
We believe that a stronger, more highly-skilled frontline workforce will lead to greater opportunity for workers and stronger communities, while driving positive returns for retailers. Grantees of the Retail Opportunity Initiative are working with other retail employers to design jobs, training programs and promotion practices that support career advancement for the frontline workforce. Rewiring the system—so incumbent workers can more easily build skills on the job and advance—will require stakeholders to work together in new ways. For example, as employers play a larger role in upskilling, training organizations can focus on providing in-demand skills and new credentialing organizations could more readily certify those new skills. Three examples of efforts we are funding to engage employers in changing the workforce development ecoystem:

  • Walmart invested in The Center for the Future of Arizona to launch RetailWorksAZ, aimed at helping frontline entry-level workers in Phoenix advance in their careers. RetailWorksAZ brought together the Retail Employer Network, a local talent development network for retailers and workforce and education stakeholders, who are partnering to support skills acquisition and wrap-around services such as childcare.
  • Walmart, along with other funders such as Rockefeller Foundation, has invested in FSG to run Employer Innovation Labs, which is bringing together 6-9 employers to test, learn and codify employer practices that drive retention and advancement of entry-level employees.
  • Walmart provided funding to the Southern Rural Development Center to work in Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma to create economic development plans for multi-county, rural regions, partner with local organizations to create relevant training and help inform people of the impact retail can have on local economies.

We believe that a stronger, more highly-skilled frontline workforce will lead to greater opportunity for workers and stronger communities.