Retail Opportunity Network Convenes in Denver to Accelerate Career Opportunities for Frontline Retail Workers

By Renise Walker, Senior Consultant, CWDC

Dec. 4, 2019 - On Nov. 20-22, CWDC staff joined over 150 national leaders from workforce, education, research and policy institutions at the Retail Opportunity Network (RON) convening in Denver. The network is made up of organizations funded by Walmart who are committed to upskilling and increasing economic mobility among frontline workers. 

Upskilling, the process of teaching employees new skills and expanding their capabilities, is an increasingly popular strategy employers are using to attract and retain workers given the record low unemployment rates. Upskilling can also help equip workers to evolve their skills as their positions change in response to automation, changing technologies, and the introduction of artificial intelligence.    

Colorado is the first of two states to receive funding from Walmart to pilot a scalable and sustainable model for bringing together industry leaders in retail, hospitality, and food & beverage to invest in upskilling promotions for frontline workers. 

During the convening, RON participants learned first hand about the upskilling efforts happening in Colorado through site visits to Fire on the Mountain, the Stonebridge Hospitality Apprenticeship, and Incumbent Employee Training and Advancement at Walmart Academy. There was also an opening session that grounded participants in an overview of how state and local leaders across business, education, and workforce are coming together to make economic opportunity a reality for frontline workers and businesses throughout Colorado.  

“Jobs in retail and hospitality don't necessarily start your career with earning the highest wages, but they have the potential for the greatest long term gain,” said Lynda Campbell, who started as a sales associate in retail and became a regional manager within five years. Campbell is also a business champion for the Metro Denver Retail Partnership (MDRP), which was formed in 2016 to improve the perceptions around the retail sector, build talent pipelines, provide education and awareness around pathways, and to increase the skill sets of incumbent workers in the industry. 

MDRP continues to champion this work in Colorado, and recently introduced WorkLife Partnership as a resource for employers looking to better support the needs of their frontline employees. WorkLife Partnership partners directly with employers to address the challenges faced by frontline workers that lead to disengagement and distracted working, such as affording food and housing expenses, transportation, and managing stress. Colorado employers interested in partnering with WorkLife can contact cwdc@state.co.us for more information.

Additional take-aways from the RON Convening:

  • Leadership from forward-thinking employers is essential.
  • Effective programs respond to the lived experiences of frontline workers.
  • A focus on equity and inclusion must start within our organizations.

Thank you to everyone who helped plan the convening, and for all the RON participants who engaged with us and are committed to increasing economic mobility for frontline workers nationwide. 

About Lives Empowered
Lives Empowered brings together retail businesses interested in working collaboratively to increase economic mobility for frontline workers across Colorado and contribute to a strong economy. Lives Empowered is made possible by a $4.1 million grant from Walmart to the Colorado Workforce Development Council. Learn more about Lives Empowered.