According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the retail sector employs more than 15 million people. The National Retail Federation estimates that retail and related employment in sectors such as transportation and logistics accounts for 42 million jobs. Workforce development organizations, retail businesses, and other partners have the potential to collaborate to improve the quality of jobs for workers in entry-level positions, create pathways for advancement in retail and related sectors, and increase employee engagement, productivity, and retention. To expand opportunities for working people, leaders in these fields need to build capacity, experiment with new and innovative strategies, and learn from their experiences.
In 2016, with generous funding provided by the Walmart Foundation, the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program (Aspen EOP) launched Reimagine Retail, a project to enhance job quality and improve mobility for workers in retail. Over three years, Aspen EOP worked with partners from six regions across the country to test and learn from innovative strategies. Organizational partners included community-based nonprofits, business associations, community development finance institutions, workforce boards, and more. Aspen EOP and our research partners at Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) supported their efforts by facilitating peer learning, conducting site-based research, supporting reflective practice, and providing seed grants for the work. Partners in the six sites learned both from their own innovations and by following along with their peers as they experimented and adapted their approaches over time. Through this iterative process, partners in every region developed pioneering practices to support mobility for retail workers. Aspen EOP recorded and shared these practices through public profiles, tools, blogs and magazine articles, webinars, events, and conference presentations, bringing the lessons of the initiative to the broader field of practice.
Reimagine Retail was one of several interrelated projects supported by a $5.5 million grant provided by the Walmart Foundation to the Aspen Institute. The grant was awarded to the Institute as part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s Opportunity initiative, a five-year, $100 million sector-wide effort aimed at strengthening the transferability of skills of the US retail workforce and developing ways to make it easier for frontline workers to advance their careers.