Whether it was a puzzling algebra equation or obscure science project, at some point, we’ve all had this thought: Will I really ever use this lesson later?
At age 16, I could have asked myself the same question, as I worked part-time at Walmart pushing shopping carts in from the parking lot. Initially, I didn’t realize that there was more to a retail store beyond cashiers, stockers and managers. Many of today’s high school students don’t, either – and that’s why I’m excited to be a part of a retail immersion class at the Houston Independent School District that aims to change that.
The topic is a little different than typical high school coursework, and so is the setup. The classroom is a simulated Walmart store, stocked with clothing racks, shelves, signage and even a cash register. While there is a dedicated teacher, other Walmart associates and I periodically visit and speak to give students an inside perspective on all the different aspects of retail as a profession.
Called Etail/Retail, the class was started by Tracy Davis, who started his own career in retail 30 years ago and is now director of the Center for Retail Management at the University of Houston-Downtown. He pitched the idea as a four-year program that would open young people’s eyes to jobs in areas like logistics, marketing, store planning or finance – and give them the real-life experience to pursue those occupations later. Now in its second year, Tracy’s concept is bigger than we ever thought, spilling over into a separate room and enrolling twice as many students. The class has also expanded to include retail sponsors other than Walmart, and Tracy is working on even more.
As a human resources manager today for 15 Walmart stores in Texas, I’m always on the lookout for strong talent. It’s exciting to see inquisitive young minds grasp the potential retail offers, and I can’t wait to see how a new generation will help us serve customers even better in the future.