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Walmart and Aspen funding retail worker research


The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists “retail salesperson” as the most common job in America, but the retail industry is evolving rapidly as is the nature of work. A new $5.5 million research grant from Walmart and the Aspen Institute aims to understand how.

The largest portion of the grant is dedicated to exploring alternative models to provide career pathways for frontline retail workers, according to a statement from Walmart and the Aspen Institute, an organization known for pioneering new approaches to complex problems.

“Retail is a critical part of our nation’s economy and an industry we can’t afford to ignore,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer at Walmart. “Bringing stronger retail workforce development requires organizations across the spectrum — foundations, training providers, government bodies, nonprofit organizations and the private sector — all working together to improve career pathways for people.”

Through the grant, the Aspen Institute and the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce will engage in primary and secondary research to develop and document strategies, explore interventions at five sites to determine best practices in the retail sector, and refine implementation guides and tools based on outcomes. The Aspen Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program is working in partnership with Corporation for a Skilled Workforce on the Reimagine Retail initiative, which will develop retail sector-specific worker advancement and systems change strategies that could be adapted for communities across the United States.

“Developing the next generation of workforce strategies requires a wide range of organizations coming together to play a positive role. We’re excited for the opportunity to work with the Walmart Foundation to improve the systems currently in place in the retail sector,” said Maureen Conway, VP of policy programs and executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute. “Through our collaboration, we’re working to encourage innovative practices among retailers that are succeeding today by investing in their workers and building their skills. The lessons learned from the retail sector have relevance beyond retail and will meaningfully contribute to the broader national conversation about the business practices, local programs and public policies needed to promote a strong economy and provide expanded opportunities for all workers.”

The Aspen Institute and Walmart Foundation hosted an event on April 6 at the Institute’s Washington D.C., office which featured McLaughlin and Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson discussing the private sector’s role in providing opportunity beyond job creation.

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