How can grocers use upskilling programs to retain frontline workers?

How grocers can use upskilling programs to retain top talent

Big-box grocery stores suffer from high attrition rates with more than 56% of frontline employees citing burnout, poor compensation, and lack of appreciation from management or peers. As a result, many of the country’s largest grocers are investing millions of dollars in upskilling programs to retain frontline workers and creating career pathways to opportunities beyond the retail floor.

According to the Food Industry Association, global attrition in grocery retail businesses jumped from 40 percent in 2019 to about 60 percent in 2020, despite an increase in average wages and benefits for full-time employees. 

Even the most loyal employees can be tempted by a company or an assignment that offers the prospect of internal growth and professional development. The post-pandemic reset provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for grocers to reintroduce themselves to prospective and current workers as an employer of choice. The companies leading the pack will do so with proven mechanisms to attract and retain top talent — chief among those being robust upskilling programs coupled with a strong career mobility strategy backed by tuition assistance as central to the employee value proposition.

To harness an employee’s loyalty to a specific brand, companies must bridge the gap between entry-level positions and corporate-level or specialized roles.

For many grocers, the most logical approach to engaging these employees is to offer upskilling programs that cultivate skills in e-commerce, operations, and customer experience. While these business units may seem unrelated, they serve as a foundation for customer loyalty in an industry that is becoming increasingly digital and experience-driven.

grocers can use upskilling programs to retain frontline workforce

Table of Contents

What can the grocery industry do to curtail attrition and attract new talent?

How do forward-thinking companies use upskilling programs to retain frontline workers and build a talent pipeline for future work?

Save your HR team time by partnering with an upskilling ally.

What can the grocery industry do to curtail attrition and attract new talent?

Grocery retailers are positioned to change the perception of what it means to work in the industry by offering the potential for real career advancement.


Recognize and address the current employee experience.

Employees who trust a company are more likely to pursue opportunities to advance from within instead of seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Elevating an employee’s experience and foundational knowledge will positively impact customers’ experience, improve overall motivation to be a team member, and contribute to positive organizational morale. The grocery industry cannot offer frontline workers perks like remote or hybrid opportunities, but they can improve elements of their total rewards benefit packages to appeal to frontline employees. Career development is a driver of retention and employee engagement. Incorporating upskilling programs, career coaching and industry certification is the first step to helping your frontline employees build a future at your company and unlocking a future talent pipeline for your organization.


Anticipate and invest in the skills frontline workers need in the future.

Grocery roles are shifting; for example, very few grocery retailers anticipated the growth of e-commerce channels. The challenge they face now is how to attract and retain grocery store employees with experience. The solution is to be proactive and develop a workforce mobility plan. To meet rapid automation, grocers can invest in upskilling or reskilling their talent to use new technology.

For example, there has been a shift in the past few years from hourly wage roles to more full-time positions in Walmart’s retail stores, improving work-life balance for associates, building more team-based ways of working in stores, and providing opportunities for better mentorship. Walmart launched its Live Better You Program (LBU) in 2018, offering associates over 50 programs for $1 a day. In 2021, Walmart removed the $1 fee for 1.5 million part-time and full-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates. The company recently revamped the Walmart Academy program to develop on-the-job skills training, grow future skills as customer shopping habits evolve, and implement manager training programs.


Career mobility in grocery stores

Market professional development differently for existing employees and new talent.

Make a clear distinction between how existing employees can benefit from professional development programs and how these programs can be folded into recruiting fresh talent. The latter group may need to be sold on the employer’s ideas and culture, while existing team members loyal to the brand have already bought in and may be hungry to give back to their employer through technical advancement.


Strengthen your education benefits program to cover upskilling programs for grocery frontline workers.

Organizations bulking up their tuition assistance programs to upskill and reskill frontline talent are finding it to be 20-30% more cost-effective in the long term. Ultimately, this leads to high rates of engagement and satisfaction from employees. Step away from offering tuition reimbursement programs.

Walmart launched Live Better U (LBU) to help over one million employees pursue further education. They opted to cover the costs of tuition upfront because tuition reimbursement models exclude lower-income workers. They also offer benefits to employees who have just started at the company. According to a study by the Lumina Foundation, “Walmart’s hourly associates who participated in LBU are significantly less likely to leave the company than non-participants; participants leave the company at a rate four times lower than non-participants.”

A study by Guild Education showed that offering education benefits helped companies increase their number of job applicants by 20% and achieve a 93% retention rate for employees actively engaged in an education program compared to an average retention rate of only 56%. In general, it can pay off to make tuition assistance benefits more widely available rather than restricting access.


Power DE&I goals.

Tap into new sources of internal talent. Build clear pathways for people from diverse backgrounds to fill roles internally. Lumina found that Walmart’s LBU program created new opportunities for career mobility across racial and ethnic groups. “Black program participants were 87.5 percent more likely, and Hispanic/Latino associates were 70.7 percent more likely to earn a promotion, with 16.9 percent of participants being promoted,” according to the study.


How do forward-thinking companies use upskilling programs to retain frontline workers and build a talent pipeline for future work?

The pandemic has shown us that the world is rapidly changing. Companies can face unpredictable challenges with upskilling. Employees can be upskilled in analytics, operations, agile, and more, allowing them to pivot when the business requires it. 

Progressive leaders are driving tangible learning outcomes through upskilling. Below, we’ve shared two examples of how Sam’s Club and Walmart benefit from offering certificate programs to their frontline staff. 


Applying new tech skills to improve productivity at Sam’s Club

Shannon is a Digital Sales Team Lead at Sam’s Club in Comanche County, Oklahoma. He is enrolled in Pathstream’s Data Analytics Certificate to improve operational efficiency amongst his team and because he is passionate about data. Shannon is actively working to apply his new data skills to make online ordering more efficient at Sam’s Club.

“We’ve started tracking the number of online orders we’re working on. We want to establish a baseline of what is feasible for our shoppers to pick and perform daily by looking at how many items we are picking per hour. Then once we establish the baseline, we look for improvements. We ask questions such as: what are some of the things we’re doing that we don’t need to do because it’s a duplication of work or wasting time? What are some more efficient ways that we can do this? Once we collect that data, we start to uncover trends and make decisions to improve our operations.”

Learning the people skills to lead at Walmart

Ti-Quan Woodley is a Realty Project Lead at Walmart in Georgia. He has taken every opportunity to grow in his role, including taking advantage of Walmart’s education benefits. After looking through Walmart’s education program catalog, he found the Pathstream Project Management Program with Agile.

“I was working in stock planning as a field assistant manager and was looking to build up my project management knowledge. I knew learning new skills could help me further advance my career and get promoted. After reviewing the curriculum, I decided to enroll because the project management program could help me achieve my professional goals.”

Ti-Quan was promoted to Realty Project Lead (similar to a senior project manager) while enrolled in the program.

“I have been in project management for eight years, and already have a lot of project management skills. The program taught me new tools like Asana and how to build Gantt charts, but what surprised me was the leadership skills I picked up. The program teaches you how to delegate responsibilities amongst your team to execute projects. You also learn how to communicate with your team to ensure a project remains on track and address conflicts should they arise. I definitely will apply those skills in my new role.”

Save your HR team time by partnering with a strategic ally.

Partner with an organization that is a one-stop-shop for career development. Hire a partner with experience in your industry and a proven track record of success in delivering career development solutions that yield positive ROI.

Pathstream is your end-to-end career mobility solution for the frontline workforce. We offer career coaching, digital skills training for critical roles in the grocery sector, industry certifications, and academic credit from leading universities — all in one seamless experience for your employees. Your junior talent can build a future at your company. Your managers can save time by providing their teams with career growth resources. Your company can reduce turnover costs and unlock the potential of a huge segment of your workforce.

Our team will track outcomes, employee reviews, and utilization, giving you visibility into what courses and skills pathways your employees use and how useful they find them. We’ll also increase participation by offering programs that employees are excited to use and by removing the burden of paperwork, so they can get started learning seamlessly.

We recognize that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution for professional development. To maximize engagement, we consider the unique challenges, employee demographic, and opportunities for employee development and curate a robust curriculum outline modeled to achieve each unique goal and objective. Get started by scheduling a call with our team today.

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