Posted: October 27th, 2016

i-am-retail-3Earlier this month, we hosted the I AM RETAIL Summit in Dallas. I AM RETAIL represented the culmination of a key phase of the National Retail Service Initiative‘s work to use competency to advance equity and diversity in retail industry talent development. Participants included corporate human resource managers, learning providers, working learners, funders, and thought leaders. Highlights included the introduction of an updated National Retail Services Competency Model, which identifies standard competencies needed at progressive career levels in the retail industry, and the announcement of the National Retail Challenge. Supported by the Walmart Foundation and ACT Foundation and managed by Hope Street Group, this challenge will award a total of $150,000 to five organizations to promote the adoption of competency-based tools and training in retail and related sectors.

Attendees agreed that support for working learners is extremely important in a robust retail industry. Employers noted that working while learning helps employees see collaboration applied in a real-world context, allows them to model good job behaviors, and connects them with role models they might not otherwise have. Many attendees fittingly had their first jobs as retail workers.  Asked to reflect on the values and skills their first job taught them as young working learners, attendees emphasized customer service, work ethic, persistence, tenacity, multitasking, responsibility, teamwork, time management, dependability, patience, and communication. Flexibility and resilience were also identified as crucial for the youngest working learners, especially since a summer job isn’t enough for many who need to work year-round, and whose lives demand a seamless integration of working and learning.

Group discussions addressed discrepancies between the critical skills employers are most in need of, which are often not technical or academic, and those skills most often evaluated and assigned levels of importance during the hiring and promotion processes.  Customer service and communication, for example, are two essential competencies for retail professionals, yet employers have difficulty discerning prospective employee strength in those areas. Tools such as SEEK which we developed in partnership with Innovate+Educate, help employers gain insights into a candidate’s true skill set. Panelists noted that an urgency in hiring, especially for entry level jobs, can often overshadow competency assessments, though the competency approach is used more broadly in hiring for managerial level positions.

The future of retail was a central topic throughout the summit. Institute for the Future’s Executive Director Marina Gorbis shared insights into the way technology will personalize the retail experience. Problem-solving, creativity, and interpersonal and technological agility were noted among the future skills critical to worker success in coming years, though participants agreed that many workers are not currently prepared to be competitive in the coming job market.

I AM RETAIL concluded as the Close It Summit began, which also focused on the trending shift to competency-based education, training, and hiring and involved many of the same participants. Close It allowed attendees to explore changes in the technologies, assessments, employment practices, and educational strategies. As a keynote speaker, ACT CEO Marten Roorda pointed to ways ACT will use its extensive body of research to help the field develop new, more meaningful credentials with a strong focus on competencies. He focused on the shift to a learning ecosystem, highlighting ACT Foundation’s Hiring Practices and Working Learning Success in the Learning Economy, report. Roorda argued that “good credentials drive out bad,” a concept he referred to as “Roorda’s Law.”

“Traditional hiring practices lack empirical evidence but are used because they are familiar,” Roorda said.  “We have an opportunity to reduce turnover and increase efficiencies through a shift to competencies.”

However, above all, he reminded attendees, “We are more than competencies. We are human beings.”

Learn more about I AM RETAIL here.

Click on an image below to enjoy pictures of action at I AM RETAIL.