NRF Foun­da­tion Re­cast­ing Re­tail’s Im­age

WWD Digital Daily - - News - BY DAVID MOIN

As Karen Katz sees it, there's a big mis­con­cep­tion about re­tail­ing.

“Peo­ple do think of re­tail­ing in a very one-di­men­sional way,” ac­knowl­edged

Katz, who was chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Neiman Mar­cus Group for seven years un­til Fe­bru­ary 2018. “They think of re­tail as sales­peo­ple in stores, but re­tail­ing is so much more than that to­day.”

There's also a per­cep­tion that re­tail­ing is low-pay­ing, that it re­quires ex­tra hours of work, and that it lacks ca­reer build­ing. That, along with the na­tion's low un­em­ploy­ment rate, makes it chal­leng­ing for re­tail­ers to fill va­cant po­si­tions across many lev­els.

“If you talk about Ama­zon, Wal­mart, Kohl's or Neiman Mar­cus, we all need ware­house work­ers, web site de­sign­ers, peo­ple with great data an­a­lyt­ics and com­puter sci­ence back­grounds,” said Katz.

To­day, Katz steps down as chair­man of the NRF Foun­da­tion, and gets suc­ceeded by Jeff Gen­nette, chair­man and ceo of Macy's Inc. It's an im­por­tant po­si­tion, con­sid­er­ing the Foun­da­tion's am­bi­tious ob­jec­tives through its “RISE Up” pro­gram to el­e­vate the im­age of the re­tail in­dus­try, at­tract more peo­ple into re­tail jobs whether it's a first job, or a sec­ond chance for some­one re-en­ter­ing so­ci­ety from prison, or a dis­placed worker, and to en­sure they have the skills to thrive at that job.

“I am sold on the mis­sion of the Foun­da­tion and what it's do­ing to cre­ate re­tail lead­ers of to­mor­row,” said Gen­nette. “The Foun­da­tion has a lot of sub­stan­tive pro­grams that make a dif­fer­ence.”

The NRF Foun­da­tion spot­lights the in­dus­try's grow­ing di­ver­sity of re­tail ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, largely due to tech­nol­ogy, om­nichan­nel and ser­vice ad­vances, and ex­poses stu­dents to newer op­por­tu­ni­ties such as in data an­a­lyt­ics, lo­gis­tics and build­ing web sites. The Foun­da­tion raises money for schol­ar­ships through its an­nual gala held dur­ing the NRF's “Re­tail's Big Show” con­ven­tion in New York, with $2.8 mil­lion raised last year, and $3.2 mil­lion to $3.3 mil­lion ex­pected this year.

“The big­gest pain points we hear from re­tail com­pa­nies is the need for in­creas­ingly skilled and so­phis­ti­cated em­ploy­ees for data and lo­gis­tics po­si­tions,” said Ellen Davis, pres­i­dent of the NRF Foun­da­tion. “Stu­dents may have com­puter sci­ence de­grees but don't al­ways think about re­tail. They may think about Google, but not nec­es­sar­ily about Home De­pot.

“We also see an in­creas­ing need for re­tail­ers to keep their pipe­line of front­line talent filled,” Davis added, re­fer­ring to such jobs as sales as­so­ciates, call cen­ter per­son­nel and ware­house work­ers. Re­tail is con­sid­ered the largest pri­vate-sec­tor em­ployer in the U.S. There were 16.45 mil­lion re­tail em­ploy­ees in the U.S. last year, slightly more than the 16.37 mil­lion re­tail work­ers in 2017.

“The dream sce­nario would be to in­crease the ap­pli­ca­tion flow, de­crease the time it takes to hire peo­ple — and it can take a long time — and in­crease the re­ten­tion rate,” Davis said.

The Foun­da­tion's RISE Up pro­gram, Davis said, sup­ports train­ing pro­grams and en­cour­ages re­tail­ers to rec­og­nize those with the Rise Up train­ing, to ex­pe­dite the hir­ing process. Those tak­ing the pro­gram get a bet­ter sense of what re­tail work en­tails, so they're not sur­prised when on the job and are more likely to stick to the job. Small re­tail own­ers re­port that the av­er­age to­tal cost to hire and train a new em­ployee can ex­ceed, on av­er­age, $2,219 and there are many re­tail­ers that see part­time turnover for front­line po­si­tions of more than 100 per­cent an­nu­ally.

Over the last two years, 50,000 in­di­vid­u­als have been through the Rise Up pro­gram, which in­volves 30 to 40 hours in a class­room or eight to 10 hours online. They learn re­tail fun­da­men­tals such as cus­tomer ser­vice, han­dling con­flicts with cus­tomers, in­ven­tory man­age­ment, re­tail sup­ply chain prin­ci­ples, and about ca­reer pos­si­bil­i­ties.

At the NRF con­ven­tion, 1,100 stu­dents will par­tic­i­pate in the Foun­da­tion's stu­dent pro­gram where they meet re­tail­ers, lis­ten to speeches, learn about in­tern­ships, jobs and un­dergo some men­tor­ing.

For 2019, “We've got a fairly am­bi­tious plan to fo­cus more on STEM,” said

Davis, re­fer­ring to sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math ed­u­ca­tions. “We've got to make sure stu­dents com­ing out with STEM-re­lated de­grees un­der­stand what jobs are avail­able in re­tail and how we can bet­ter fill the front­line po­si­tions.”

“Ev­ery re­tailer these days is com­pet­ing for talent for ware­house jobs, IT teams, data an­a­lyt­ics and mar­ket­ing, whether it's Neiman's or any other re­tailer,” said Katz. “Every­body is chal­lenged to find not just the right quan­tity of peo­ple but the right qual­ity of peo­ple. That is a uni­ver­sal chal­lenge for re­tail­ers.”

Asked if Macy's has dif­fi­culty fill­ing job va­can­cies, Gen­nette replied, “In our call cen­ters, lo­gis­tics cen­ters and stores, we were ahead of our hir­ing goals all the way through the hol­i­day. Hir­ing is up, turnover is down. We're in a good place.”

Macy's “Path to Growth” In­cen­tive Plan, funded by cor­po­rate tax cuts and launched early last year, helps with em­ployee re­ten­tion and mo­ti­va­tion. All Macy's col­leagues are eligible. In­cen­tives, re­ceived quar­terly, are tied to mea­sur­able goals. In the third quar­ter, 75 per­cent of Macy's as­so­ciates earned an in­cen­tive.

In tech­ni­cal ar­eas, in­clud­ing data sci­en­tists and ma­chine-learn­ing en­gi­neers, “We've got a good pipe­line of talent,” Gen­nette said. “We cre­ate them. We also look for them, and we need more.”

Re­gard­ing RISE Up, launched two years ago, “Now it's start­ing to re­ally take hold,” said Katz. “Over the next cou­ple of years, it could be a huge win. In 2018, 50,000 peo­ple took the cre­den­tials test. It could be hun­dreds of thou­sands over the next few years.”

“The sec­ond big ac­com­plish­ment is the stu­dent pro­gram,” said Katz. “We have

1,100 at­tend­ing. We've dou­bled the num­ber of stu­dents we are host­ing. We re­ally en­cour­age stu­dents with STEM back­grounds to at­tend the pro­gram to un­der­stand that re­tail­ers have great op­tions for them. It's so crit­i­cal for the re­tail in­dus­try to be able to at­tract those kinds of peo­ple.”

Macy’s Jeff Gen­nette be­comes chair­man of the Foun­da­tion which sup­ports re­tail job train­ing and en­cour­ages re­tail ca­reers.

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