The challenges in the retail sector were evident before the pandemic, and in 2017 the National Fund for Workforce Solutions launched a retail sector job quality initiative, Advancing Careers in Retail. The goal of the initiative was to explore the potential to improve the quality of frontline retail jobs and facilitate career advancement opportunities by using an approach more commonly used in other sectors — an industry-specific partnership. Industry partnerships have served as an effective way to solve workforce development challenges in a number of industries: employers facing similar workforce issues come together to exchange best practices and support each other in developing a stronger talent pool as a whole. Through this engagement, employers often come to understand that improving frontline jobs not only benefits their workers, but also benefits their businesses through reduced turnover and greater productivity.
With support from Walmart, the National Fund co-invested in three communities – Baltimore, Des Moines, and Seattle – to learn how to scale industry partnerships in the retail sector and integrate job quality strategies. Each region formed a partnership to encourage practices that would improve job quality and employee advancement opportunities. This report outlines the key lessons learned from the initiative, including the unique challenges and opportunities for engaging the retail sector, and next steps for future work in retail and the broader service sector. Feedback from employers, workers, community-based organizations, and funders informed the lessons learned.