A Credential for Newcomers

Power of A Associations Now May/June 2019 Issue By: Mark Athitakis

To give new entrants to the retail workforce a boost and fuel the pipeline for employers, the National Retail Federation Foundation’s RISE Up credentialing program helps thousands of entry-level workers build skills for retail careers.

Associations are used to awarding credentials to highly educated and experienced professionals. But credentials can be just as valuable for those taking their first steps into the workforce. That’s the thinking behind RISE Up, an initiative of the National Retail Federation Foundation that trains workers in essential skills for entry-level jobs in retail.

“Retail is looking for about a half a million people at any given point in time, and there are people who can’t find jobs,” says Ellen Davis, president of the NRF Foundation. “There are myriad factors that go into this, but one of them is recognizing that not everyone has the skills necessary to be successful at the very beginning.”

In the RISE (Retail Industry Skills and Education) Up program, participants engage in a mix of online and classroom training and mentoring they can take to interviews. Since its launch in 2017, RISE Up has attracted about 30 retail partners, including Macy’s, Target, and the Home Depot, and more than 50,000 people have taken part. RISE Up operates under a train-the-trainers system, where the foundation works with nonprofits and high school groups to educate teachers on the program.

Because retail can have high turnover rates, the appeal of the program for industry partners is strong, says Davis. “Some companies are really leaders in training people once they’re hired, but many of them didn’t have a pre-hire program that would help people before they even got an interview or a job,” she says.

The program—which was honored last year with a Summit Award in ASAE’s Power of A Awards competition—also means to debunk the myth that retail work is unskilled labor.

“We’re not teaching coding, but we’re teaching the importance of conflict management, of working in a team,” Davis says. “The importance of interacting with customers, especially customers having a bad experience. Those are all skills that for some people, based on their circumstances and their personality, are innate. For other people, you need a little bit of extra time and education to learn it. And those are also skills that you can take with you for the rest of your career.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.