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Walmart Foundation and Aspen Institute aim to enhance economic mobility for retail workers


A new $5.5 million research grant from the Walmart Foundation and the Aspen Institute will look at the evolving nature what the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists as the most common job in America: “retail salesperson.”

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 the Walmart Foundation and the Aspen Institute, an organization known for pioneering new approaches to complex problems.

According to the National Retail Federation, the retail industry supports one in four American jobs, for a total of 42 million jobs. Walmart Foundation and Aspen Institute are working together to outline clear paths for retail worker advancement, clarify models for workers to transition to adjacent sectors, and improve the satisfaction and engagement of workers remaining in their positions.

“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 for 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, vice president 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.”

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