Training & Development

How to empower your grocery retail workforce and boost retention

Most people remember their first job quite vividly. Some individuals got their initial taste of the working world by babysitting or making pizzas. But many professionals started their careers in grocery retail by tending to the register or stocking shelves. Perhaps you can relate. 

Unfortunately, data suggests grocery retail is typically seen as a stepping stone to a different career path. The most recent version of the Independent Grocers Financial Survey reports that turnover rates among independent retailers range from 18 percent for full-time employees to 47 percent for part-time employees.

Matt Venegas, assistant vice chancellor of community and corporate relations for University of Massachusetts Global, says, “There is a real opportunity, now more than ever, for grocery retailers to clearly articulate how the entry-level jobs they offer can lead to a long-term professional path." Many hourly employees qualify for jobs in a wide variety of industries, and compensation is usually what differentiates one role from another.

“If you’re paying $12 an hour, someone might literally go across the street to make $12.50 an hour, regardless of what the potential career track is,” Venegas offers.

Most workers would be excited to know about the professional opportunities that exist, but they need to be made aware of them to start thinking beyond what their current hourly rate is. It’s up to you to help your current employees see that they have the potential to advance into rewarding leadership positions.

3 Steps to improving retention among your grocery workers

It’s completely possible to improve employees’ satisfaction and encourage them to stay with your organization for years to come. It may take some time to fully develop the types of programs that your workforce is craving, but think of it as an iterative process. Start exploring the steps you can take to improve retention in your stores.

1. Establish your organization as a place that prioritizes professional development

The first step is to show your employees that you're committed to helping them develop by fostering a supportive environment. Hosting informal trainings that cover relevant industry topics is a great way to get started. A few grocery retailers have gone so far as to hire full-time training specialists who can continually help employees build upon their skills.

Venegas says the real key is to make it clear to workers that you’re a pro-employee-development institution. Cherie Phipps, director of the Retail Management Certificate program for the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC), agrees. How can you communicate that message to workers?

“We ask employers to do several things that are best practices,” Phipps says. “Posting promotion opportunities, for example. Employers should provide specific information about desired qualifications, such as the Retail Management Certificate.”

Making employees aware of the vast array of career opportunities that exist in the grocery industry is crucial. Then they can better understand where they are and what they need to do to receive a promotion. The message, Phipps says, should be clear: “To separate yourself from other candidates, you need to skill up so that you are the obvious choice.”

2. Provide assistance for industry-relevant certificates that are stackable to college degrees

Once you establish your organization as one that values professional development, you'll want to determine how you can help employees grow their knowledge and skills. Unquestionably, encouraging your employees to pursue educational opportunities like certificates is one of the best ways you can do this.

“We recognize the competitive advantage that comes with having an educated and informed workforce,” says Bryan Kaltenbach, president of Kroger’s Food 4 Less and Foods Co divisions.

Employees can see real value in adding credentials to their resumes. A recent report shows there’s a salary advantage for individuals who work in a position related to the certificate program they completed. By developing relevant skills and deepening their knowledge through a formal program, graduates can stand out from other job candidates. 

Keep in mind that not all credentials are created equal. In many cases, certificate programs offer little beyond a congratulatory message upon completion. The Retail Management Certificate, though, provides graduates with college credit that can be transferred to a degree. That’s a huge part of why this credential is one of the most respected in the grocery industry and even the larger retail space.

“It’s an 8-course, 24-credit certificate, which covers general business acumen at a broad, foundational level,” Phipps explains. Students complete the program through a community college, which ensures a quality education. “The competencies are only gained if our trusted college partners assert that they have been, so the testing and assessment is vital,” she adds.

Students who successfully obtain the Retail Management Certificate really do find themselves on an upward trajectory. Reports from graduate surveys say a lot about what individuals who complete the program gain:

  • 98 percent of graduates say the program helps develop self-confidence and professionalism.
  • 89 percent of graduates say the Retail Management Certificate provides more opportunities and accelerates career development.
  • 80 percent of individuals who complete the Retail Management Certificate plan to pursue a degree.

“Once they graduate from the program,” Venegas says, “they actually want to know, ‘What's next for my education?’ and, ‘Is my company willing to pay for that?’”

3. Consider more robust education benefits

While helping employees obtain a quality certificate is a good way to begin, you can further encourage their professional development with even more substantial education benefits. Eliminating the cost for employees by providing tuition assistance can remove a critical barrier that may otherwise prevent some promising workers from prioritizing their professional development. Many employers already recognize how important this is, often paying the cost of the Retail Management Certificate Program upfront so employees are never paying out their own pockets.

“We support our team members in the Retail Management Certificate Program with tuition assistance as well as company-wide recognition upon completion of the program,” Kaltenbach shares.

The idea of offering tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement might seem impractical at first. But you might be surprised at how much you can get in return for investing in your employees’ education. Just look to the success Discover Financial Services realized. From 2010 to 2013, the organization’s tuition reimbursement program produced a 144 percent return on investment (ROI) by avoiding numerous talent management costs. Of course, your odds of success are greater when you partner with a high-quality, affordable institution like University of Massachusetts Global.

Note that the graduation rate for returning students at UMass Global is 81 percent, which is significantly higher than the corresponding national averages for returning students at public, private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions. The odds of achieving a positive ROI are clearly better when you partner with a university that boasts such impressive outcomes.

“Our goal is to work with to potentially reach a positive ROI in this process,” Venegas offers. “For every dollar a company spends on an employee to complete their education, the objective is to be cash-positive with all the cost savings of retaining and developing that employee.”

When choosing a college or university to partner with, there are a few other things you should keep in mind. Knowing that your employees will be interested in completing the Retail Management Certificate, you’d be wise to choose a school that allows those students to seamlessly transfer their credits.

For instance, the Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in general business, a UMass Global MyPath ™ competency-based program, allows students to apply all 24 of those credits toward their degree. It’s also worth thinking about whether a school allows learning options that fit your employees varying shift hours. Offerings that are both online and self-paced appeal to students who need flexibility that can accommodate their various responsibilities

Start empowering your grocery employees

Turnover might be notoriously high in grocery retail, but you can start improving that at your own organization. By offering your workforce the benefits and support they’re craving, you can start to change their perception of what it means to work in this field. You may even end up with some lifelong employees.

You’ve probably recognized that focusing on robust education benefits is quite powerful. Many organizations that have built out financial assistance programs for these types of benefits have seen incredible ROI. If you want to learn more about education offerings, check out the Western Association of Food Chains’ Retail Management Certificate.

Maybe you’re even interested in exploring the opportunity to partner with a higher education institution to offer your employees more educational pathways. Schools like University of Massachusetts Global make it easy for students who’ve completed the Retail Management Certificate to apply up to all their credits toward a degree program. Take a look at our Partner Organizations to learn more.


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