Walmart has a plan to keep retail workers out of dead-end jobs
On April 6, the company announced a $5.5 million grant to help those employees, and retail workers in all sectors of retail, more easily advance within their companies.
To do that, the Walmart Foundation is partnering with the Aspen Institute, which will use the grant money to fund research into ways to make retail more engaging and effective for workers."We need to collectively improve the way retail works as a feeder to the rest of the job landscape," Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation, tells Tech Insider.
Despite retail jobs making up a quarter of the American workforce, half of all employees in those jobs are dissatisfied. Often, the roles are seen as temporary positions on the way to something better. The pay is low and turnover is high - something Walmart and the Aspen Institute believe only concentrated research can address.
Walmart stands to gain a lot from this research given just how many retail employees it has. Turnover isn't cheap, so it benefits Walmart to figure out pathways for retail workers to advance within the company.
Over the next couple years, the $5.5 million will go toward funding investigative projects in five cities around the US. More than 37,000 retail employees will participate in the effort, as local researchers see which interventions - from on-the-job apprenticeships to financial counseling - give people the tools to enjoy and move up in their jobs.
Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute, says that if people start feeling more engaged and supported by an employer, they'll be able to participate more in their jobs.
"We're less focused on where they start and more focused on how to help them move up more quickly," McLaughlin says. "How do we help people do that on the job?"Part of the solution, she suspects, is devising some sort of playbook for retailers that standardizes the experience employees have within their companies. Any kind of improvement also involves removing the uncertainties that come with scheduling shifts.
It also, to a certain degree, involves the investment in workers through higher minimum wages, Conway says. Multiple states have upped their minimum wages recently; most recently, California announced a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
"If you don't invest in your workers and you have this high turnover, you have this disincentive to invest in their skill development, because why would you? You think they'll leave in three months," she says. "That's been your experience."
In two years, Walmart and the Aspen Institute hope to have a better understanding of what makes retail so dissatisfying for millions of people around the country.
Then they'll be able to move forward with changes that make showing up for work less of a chore, and more of a genuinely fulfilling experience.