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03/01/2022

Getting creative with hiring and retention

In this latest column, David Orgel highlights how retailers need to work harder to become employers of choice.

The pandemic didn’t cause the employment problem, but it made it a lot worse. 

Food and drug retailers face growing challenges with employee hiring and retention in a more competitive labor environment. 

The obstacles are formidable. A Future of Work report last year from FMI and Deloitte pointed to important findings from a food industry survey. Retailers cited talent availability as the biggest workforce challenge, followed by talent retention, retraining and reskilling.

The good news is that retailers are heavily experimenting, on fronts ranging from compensation to training and education.

While many retailers have reacted strategically to labor shortfall challenges, there is a need to take efforts to the next level. That requires absorbing best practices of the past few years and putting in place strategies to drive enduring success.

It’s time to get really creative about the workforce.

Going All in on Education 
The good news is that retailers are heavily experimenting, on fronts ranging from compensation to training and education. 

Walmart is a good example of a company that has ramped up its investments in college education and tuition. The giant retailer is now paying the entire cost of associates’ college tuition and books through its Live Better U education program. It plans to spend nearly $1 billion over a five-year period on career-focused training and development. The retailer also has added to its list of university partners to give associates a wider range of choices.

[Read more: Walmart reports strong Q4, full-year earnings]

Finding New Pools of Candidates 
Retailers have increasingly realized the need to find new sources of job candidates, which often means becoming more engaged in communities. One of the most creative and ambitious examples is at CVS Health, which has been opening Workforce Innovation and Talent Centers. Last year, the retailer opened a center in Pittsburgh at Ebenezer Baptist Church geared toward providing training for a range of retail roles. It even included a simulated retail store to support those efforts. The center supports the retailer’s focus on providing employment and training in underserved populations, including for people with disabilities, mature workers, youth and veterans.

Rethinking Entry-Level Requirements 
Labor shortages have led more retailers to reconsider which education prerequisites are most important in hiring — a proactive move that benefits both company and job candidate. CVS Health has taken a lead by eliminating the high school diploma or GED requirement for most entry-level roles. 

Reimagining the Office Building
On the list of creative approaches to workforce challenges, an initiative by Rite Aid has to fall somewhere near the top. The retailer has unveiled a “corporate workplace of the future” that lines up with its “remote-first” work philosophy. This “reimagined workplace model” prioritizes flexibility while also creating an official headquarters space in Philadelphia for in-person collaboration and company gatherings. Additionally, the company will open country-wide regional collaboration centers where Rite Aid teams may attend  in-person meetings, training and development, and other activities.

[Read more: Rite Aid launches revamped customer loyalty program]

The Big Payoff
There are many ways to grow a retailer’s reputation as an employer, but what does success look like? 

We’ve all seen rankings of top employers, such as Fortune’s annual Best Workplaces in Retail. It’s no accident that companies such as Wegmans Food Markets, Target, Nugget Market and Publix Super Markets score high. They have worked hard to gain the reputation of best-in-class workplaces, which provides a competitive edge in hiring. That kind of status is within the grasp of just about every retailer that decides to make the effort.

More Blog Posts In This Series

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