Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned for Students

The students who were already in retail did get promoted.
It gave them confidence that they could attend college.
The one who were not in retail felt confident that they could participate in those type of occupations.
If you go online for a job search, it's going to say education required.
They have a skillset and a strong sense of business acumen, which I don't think all students have.
It puts them above all other students or other unemployed people looking for jobs that don't have any kind of certificate or training.
My company offered up a scholarship for any employee seeking higher education.

Working toward an eight-course certificate can help students gain confidence in educational opportunities
Many students we talked with shared that they were nervous or reluctant to go back to college. However, because the commitment was relatively small—eight courses—and the outcome was concrete and immediately useful—an industry recognized certificate—students were willing to take the risk. After they started classes, they discovered that college was not as difficult as they had imagined. Students talked fondly of doing homework next to their own kids, and feeling proud of the grades they made. Others shared that they hoped to continue their education later, and were excited that program laid the groundwork. Having the opportunity to gain additional certificates, by taking just a few more classes, also increased their feelings of success.

The Retail Management Certificate (RMC) may give students an edge in hiring and promotion decisions.
We consistently heard employers talk about the increased opportunities that an RMC student could receive, including preference in hiring, promotion, and wage increases. Employers are willing to offer these incentives to participants and completers because the RMC teaches skills that employers believe are crucial to successful careers in retail management.

Students already employed in retail but want to move forward may be able to get financial and other types of support from their employers.
We observed many different types of support that employers were willing to give to their employees who wanted to improve their job opportunities in the company. Types of support that employers provided students in this program include tuition, reimbursement for books (or instituted a textbook borrowing program), flexible work schedules, formal praise through events or company newsletters, and opening space on their location for onsite classes. Employers saw the benefit of a more educated workforce, and often have funds to support their employees.

Student support services are most effective when colleges ensure that students are aware of the services and seek them out.
Nearly all students we interviewed explained the importance and value of student support staff in helping them reach their goals through the variety of services offered. For students to receive these services, whether from a designated RMC counselor or an academic advisor, colleges should continue to promote these services so that students are aware of the opportunities that can help them succeed. Additionally, student support staff noted that most of the time, they had to reach out to students via email, text, and phone calls. If the colleges promote the role of the student support staff, then students can begin to seek services more independently.

Lessons Learned for Employers

We're helping them get to a place maybe the couldn't get on their own.
It gives them an edge when it comes time to possible job promotions.
We're giving them the opportunity to build on the skills they already have.
We want to have an educated workforce so we can continue to be competitive with other employers in the industry.
My company offered up a scholarship for any employee seeking higher education.

The RMC program teaches skills directly relevant to retail management.
Because retail employers were directly involved in the curriculum validation and alignment process, it ensures that an RMC graduate learns the material relevant to the ever-changing retail management industry. This relevancy ensures a high quality workforce for employers who want to stay competitive and nurture talent, externally and internally. Additionally, a college-level education can enhance in-house training programs by the increased depth of skills and competencies students learn.

Employers can promote the program to employees in several different ways.
Interviewees repeatedly mentioned two promising ways that employers can encourage and support their employees throughout the RMC program: (1) creating culture shifts within the organization to place emphasis on higher education—this was done by advertising the program throughout the company and formally acknowledging graduates; and (2) giving financial support in the form of tuition and textbook reimbursement. Employers spoke at length about the benefits of a college-educated workforce to their business.

Successful RMC programs rely on a strong partnership between employers and colleges.
For an RMC program to succeed, colleges and employers need to collaborate in a way that enables consistent communication and an opportunity for creative problem solving. Often, this occurred through a point person at the company (usually someone associated with HR or training) with direct connections and communication with someone at the college—often a business department chair or a college advisor. Employers often described the registration process as the most difficult for their employees; having someone at the company who knows the procedures and dates and can advise interested employees can greatly increase the chances of a successful start to the program. Employers can also provide feedback to colleges by attending advisory meetings so that colleges can hear their input and working alongside the advising offices to get their student employees' needs met.

Lessons Learned for Colleges

Investigate why you want the RMC program and its value.
I would talk to the students in business [departments] and see if there is interest for it.
Talk to the industry members about how they see the value of the program.
It really helps to have support of the industry behind it.
You need the buy-in of faculty, typically maybe a dean and a program chair.
Have the [college] administration's support. Period.
You need to have a really strong relationship whomever in doing employer outreach and the traditional business department so there is communication.
We've seen our students be more successful because we try to connect them to the appropriate support services on our campus.
Having a positive relationship with companies that are going to hire your students is a good idea no matter what.
Make sure your leadership wants this.

Three types of buy-in are necessary: college, student, and industry.
Grant staff and faculty were generally enthusiastic about the opportunity that this program gave their colleges to attract new students (especially working ones) and its direct relevance to improving the quality of workforce for the retail industry in their communities. However, having four colleges with four different contexts also helped identify some of the essential factors that need to be in place for the RMC program to be successful.

College buy-in: Staff across the colleges expressed the importance of making sure that faculty and college leadership are open to and enthusiastic about supporting an RMC program. This support is important because faculty members will be teaching and promoting the RMC on a daily basis and college leadership is responsible for making decisions that affect the program on a larger level. Colleges talked at length about needing to have a "champion" at each school who promotes and takes ownership of the RMC program. This "ownership" also relates to deciding which department can house the RMC program and offer the greatest chance for success. Colleges found success in situating the program in the business departments at their schools, as the program directly relates to business.

Student buy-in: Program managers suggested making sure that this is a program that interests students, which will ensure that there are students to actually take the classes and graduate from the program. Colleges suggested reaching out to typical business students to determine their receptivity.

Industry buy-in: Across the consortium, grant staff emphasized the need to ensure a significant amount of buy-in from potential industry partners, because the program is designed to help address their labor needs. Strong industry partners will send their employees to the program and hire graduates. This support is especially important to attracting students who want to know what opportunities they might have as an RMC graduate.

Aligning college curriculum to meet RMC requirements is relatively easy because community colleges usually already offer most or all the courses needed.
The eight courses required for the RMC credential are basic business and management classes. For a college to start a program, it needs to make sure that the courses are addressing the learning objectives of the competencies. The one course least likely to be taught is the retail management class, and at the time the grant ended, some colleges were considering creative ways to share that class with other surrounding community colleges. In addition, the ACT-On consortium and WAFC developed materials that are now available to those interested in avoiding "re-inventing the wheel". These materials include online modules that can serve as curriculum or a supplement, and as marketing and advising materials. These resources are available on retailmanagementcertificate.com.

Investing in student support staff is crucial for a successful program.
Students and grant staff attributed student success largely to the staff that guided them throughout the whole process. During the grant period, schools had designated staff to assist students. However, due to budget restrictions, this might not always be possible. Therefore, colleges addressed this issue by transferring their knowledge of the program to the employers’ HR representatives so they can assist their employees. They accomplished the transfer by creating clear guidance manuals and identifying a college point person for the HR person. Colleges also trained in-house advisors and identified a faculty member formally responsible for the RMC program and advising students.

Lessons Learned for the US Department of Labor

Grant and college staff agreed that online curriculum development would best be completed by professional organizations, rather than college faculty.
Grant staff and faculty from each of the colleges stated that a significant lesson learned was that online curriculum development should be left to professionals and not faculty. Interviewees said that while faculty might traditionally gather content for their courses, they are not generally prepared to develop the curriculum, especially in an online environment. Also, leaving the curriculum development to professionals would ensure a greater degree of sustainability as they would be able to update the curriculum long after the grant ends.

Some strategies that DOL intended Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grantees to adopt were hindered by the climate at the community colleges.
Some colleges experienced difficulty implementing some strategies due, in part, to the greater climate at the college outside of the grant. As an example, the credit for prior learning/prior learning assessment (CPL/PLA) strategy was unable to gain traction in some of the colleges due to internal or state policies. Another example was realizing that successful programs must have the capacity to place students in employment, which might be more challenging for community colleges. One grant staff member recommended conducting a readiness assessment for colleges seeking grants to determine whether the community college would be receptive to such a program.

Data requirements for the evaluation presented challenges for colleges.
Wage data was a particular challenge for some states to collect. The best source for reliable wage data is Unemployment Insurance (UI) records. However, states have different rules on how and when this data can be shared with other institutions. In California and Alaska, the offices that hold this data only provide it in aggregate form; conducting the required analyses that involved individual-level data was not feasible. Data analysts, industry liaisons, and career coaches worked together to collect this data in other ways, but this ultimately resulted in missing data and an additional burden on staff.
Additionally, the data requirements for the evaluation required the colleges to set up "home-grown" data systems, often separate from their colleges' existing data systems. This data handling was burdensome and often resulted in less than ideal data.