With the Dallas-Fort Worth retail industry at all-time highs, the region is facing a growing retail “skills gap” as employers struggle to find qualified candidates with the expertise to succeed.
To address this challenge, the Dallas workforce board is launching a technology-driven solution that enables job-seekers and workers to access training in critical soft skills, and other technical areas, directly from their mobile device.
The $2 million retail effort is part of a broader initiative in which Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas has partnered with training specialist Penn Foster in an ambitious effort to empower frontline workers by offering free training programs to address pressing skills gaps in high-demand fields.
The initiative is designed to create new pathways from education to employment for entry- and mid-level employees in the Dallas area, Laurie Larrea, president of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, told the Dallas Business Journal in an interview.
“Dallas, of course, is a hub for retail,” Larrea said. “We have amazing statistics. The problem is, a lot of people hire in, then they job switch, they change out. They’re looking for that next dollar. They’re looking for a living wage.”
The new platform, known as the Retail Skills Digital Academy, will offer skills training through the NRF Foundation — the philanthropic arm of the National Retail Federation. It will also offer soft skill and high school diploma programs to reduce barriers to career advancement.
To improve accessibility for working adults, the program will be administered through a self-paced, mobile-friendly learning platform. At the same time, learners will be supported by state-of-the-art coaching and academic motivation and support services.
This new initiative is part of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas' Retail Pay$ program, funded by Walmart, designed to help entry-level workers navigate retail career pathways that lead to mid-level careers.
“As we automate the front register and so many of the services, we begin to see that there’s more of a need for the thinking person and the person who can problem solve in any retail situation,” Larrea said.
The economy of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area is booming, with one of the country's highest rates of job growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Texas continues to face gaps in its middle-skill workforce. Nearly six in 10 jobs in the state require more than a high school diploma and less than a college degree, but only 42 percent of Texans have been educated to the middle-skill level. Many are also employed but remain in poverty.
A total of 850 retail industry workers will be funded to take part in the new program at no cost to themselves.
The Dallas County Community College District will take the academic lead in the program, and Penn Foster will handle the online element.
Penn Foster hopes that the strategic partnership with Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas will serve as a national blueprint for workforce engagement and showcase the potential for public-private partnerships that leverage technology to foster both economic growth and mobility, Ron Stefanski, managing director, strategic alliances and corporate education told the DBJ in an interview.
The training will take a boot camp approach to upskilling the retail talent, Stefanski said.
“We’ll bring a broad range of programs to the greater Dallas residents,” he said. “Everything from employer skills in leadership collaboration, to soft skills, to high school completion and to supervisory completion programs and working with the NRF Foundation.”
About Penn Foster
Students, employers and partner organizations rely on Penn Foster to build the skills and knowledge to power the 21st century workforce. For over 125 years, Penn Foster has been dedicated to helping people lead more meaningful and productive lives and to improving social outcomes through education. Penn Foster provides career pathways for opportunity youth and adult learners through diverse and affordable online diploma, certificate and degree programs, offered via its high school, career school and college. With more than 40,000 graduates each year, Penn Foster's online and blended learning programs are delivered in a self-paced, competency-based model wrapped by comprehensive academic, professional and personal support and coaching. For more information, visit https://www.pennfoster.edu/ or our partners site at https://partners.pennfoster.edu/.