Newsflash: with a pandemic still top of mind, retailers are having a hard time hiring the workers they need.
Despite store reopenings, the retail sector actually shed 28,000 jobs in August, in part because hundreds of thousands of workers are now seeking jobs in other industries.
That’s driving retailers to rethink their hiring processes: CVS recently dropped its requirement for new hires to have a high-school diploma; Walmart and Kohl’s are handing out bonuses to workers who stay in their jobs for more than a couple of months; and some chains are aggressively hiring 14 and 15 year olds in a bid to staff up vital positions.
This is a major challenge for today’s retailers. But we can’t put it right simply by rethinking hiring, lowering standards, or luring in half-hearted candidates with hiring bonuses and free breakfasts.
Instead, we need to find ways to make retail jobs more appealing to bright, ambitious young people who are looking for a true career rather than simply the chance to grab a few dollars and some free pancakes.
At a recent webinar, I connected with some of the industry’s best and brightest thought leaders to discuss this crisis and find a way forward for our industry.
The good news? For companies that are willing to invest in new technologies and training paradigms, it’s increasingly possible to give your workers a sense of true pride in their jobs—and to make retail work both rewarding and desirable.
Here are three key ways to get started:
1) Put people first
The beginning, middle, and end of building a successful retail team is putting people first. It doesn’t matter how strong your brand is, how great your products are, or how loyal your customers are — if you can’t build an engaged, enthusiastic workforce then everything else will crumble into dust.
That’s a point that Kevin Cooper, Director of Leadership & Development at BurgerFi, made succinctly during our webinar: “Everything we do is done through our people,” he said. “The backbone of BurgerFi is having highly motivated and energetic team members, so we have to take care of them to be able to take care of guests and take pride in what they do. We can’t do this without training.”
The key here is that the way you show your people that they matter is by training them to do their jobs well, and enabling a continuous process of learning and growth throughout their time in your organization.
The retailers who get this right look beyond face-to-face coaching, and use mobile devices and digital tools to bring learning opportunities into associates’ workflows.
2) Turn employees into experts
A key way to show you value your people is to make it easier for them to do their jobs effectively and deliver amazing service for your customers.
Paula Angelucci, District Manager at Adore Me, says that really boils down to sharing information quickly and effectively across your entire team, using engaging tools like mobile videos instead of dull, easily ignored methods like emails and bulletin-board flyers.
“Retail and hospitality businesses need to be as streamlined as possible,” Paula says. “But at the same time our teams want to have great information—they want to be experts, and they want to know things.”
Putting information at employees’ fingertips lets them make smarter decisions throughout their workday.
Better communication also enables associates to understand why certain policies are in place, and the strategic importance of the tasks they’ve been assigned.
That enables them to execute more effectively, and also to view their work not just as a succession of chores, but as a vital part of the entire organization’s success.
3) Help associates to grow
Creating opportunities for communication, collaboration, and learning help your employees to do their jobs better, but it also helps them to feel seen and appreciated.
Instead of slogging through the same routine over and over, associates can take pride in improving over time, making valued contributions, and sharing knowledge that helps other associates across the organization to do their jobs better too.
The key to achieving that is combining effective tech tools with cultural practices that drive real engagement, says Ruhshana Parker, VM Manager at Sportscene.
After implementing YOOBIC’s mobile tech solution, Sportscene created a leaderboard where associates could see who had completed the most training courses, creating a friendly sense of gamified competition. “We’ve rocketed from 30% engagement to 78% engagement, which is amazing,” Ruhshana says.
Using similar approaches can get associates to use learning tools such as real-time micro-lessons; encourage peer-to-peer remote mentoring via instant chat or social tools; or help make the use of informational resources a fun and engaging part of the workers’ daily routine.
Training for success
By combining these approaches, and giving associates the tools and learning opportunities they need to do their jobs better, we can use training to give retail employees real pride in their work. The more we invest in streamlined, engaging training methods and technologies, the more we’ll
show our employees that we truly value them — and the more they, in turn, will lean into their retail careers and bring their best self to work every day.
That’s good for both employers and team members. After all, anyone can clock in, slouch around a shop floor for a few hours, then clock out again. But today’s workers don’t want to merely phone it in—they want jobs they can take pride in, where they feel valued and where they have a real chance to grow and contribute.
Using new technologies to drive engagement and create learning opportunities will help us get more out of our workers—but it will also help us to make retail work a career to be proud of.
In the long run, that’s the only way to solve the labor crisis and build the sustainable talent pipeline we need to succeed in the post-pandemic era.
Ron Thurston loves retail. And he’s proud of it. Ron has led the retail teams for some of America’s most prominent brands, inspired thousands of store employees, and traveled relentlessly across the country to sit and listen to what they have to say. From a part-time sales associate to a Vice President of Stores, Ron has put in the hard work that a retail career requires and wrote this book to share what he learned along the way.
In 2021, Ron was named one of the world’s Top 100 most influential people in retail and is a featured keynote speaker, podcast guest, and in-demand industry expert. Ron most recently led the retail organization for INTERMIX, sits on the board of directors for GOODWILL NY/NJ, and is an advisory board member and mentor for several retail technology brands.