The National Fund is awarding $900,000 in grants made possible through a grant from Walmart to the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative, Central Iowa Works, and SkillUp Washington. The grants will be given in $100,000 increments each year for three years to each organization to support their efforts to work with employers, educators, and community leaders to expand opportunities in retail and connected sectors. These programs will offer additional training to workers, building career pathways and incorporating business strategies that help employees advance into higher positions with an ultimate goal of making a positive impact on regional retail economies.

With more than 600,000 open positions and a current total employment of more than 48 million individuals, the retail and adjacent service sectors have a large footprint in our nation’s economy. Thirty-two percent of first jobs are in retail, and with low barriers to entry and potential for advancement, the National Fund sees the retail sector as a prime opportunity for individuals to learn critical skills and start a career.

“The retail industry is a major employer in the United States, and it is critical that the millions of retail jobs provide real opportunity for the employees and value for employers,” said Fred Dedrick, president and CEO of the National Fund. “This project is a tremendous opportunity to help employers improve the quality of their jobs as well as their competitiveness by helping workers advance on a career pathway. By partnering with communities, educators, and retailers, we can make retail an even better industry to start or grow a career.”

Central Iowa project

Central Iowa Works (CIW), an initiative of United Way of Central Iowa, is a workforce intermediary that helps employers recruit and retain skilled workers by creating pathways for job-seekers who need opportunities. CIW will complete an analysis of retail employment in Central Iowa, a sector that currently employs nearly 40,000 workers. Through this analysis, CIW will focus on challenges in recruitment, turnover, and limited career advancement. Retailers will be provided strategies to improve recruiting, retaining, and advancing frontline workers. CIW operates in both a large city and rural communities, presenting a unique perspective into those varying retail economies.

“As the unemployment rate remains low and our retail sector continues to grow, central Iowa needs to consider new opportunities to create careers within the retail industry,” said Pat Steele, director of Central Iowa Works. “This grant gives Central Iowa Works the opportunity to study the landscape and identify new solutions to meet local challenges, so more central Iowans can pursue careers that lead to financial stability, and employers can attract and retain a strong workforce.”

National collaboration

This project is a unique local and national collaboration designed to test innovative strategies in specific communities and to spread the most effective methods for improving retail occupations. As its first project explicitly focused on the retail sector, the National Fund will document successful practices and innovative approaches from the three pilot cities and will share this across its network of 33 communities.

“At Walmart, we believe positive and lasting change comes from collaboration with others and leveraging local expertise,” said Julie Gehrki, Vice President, Programs, Walmart. “Our support of the National Fund is an investment in finding employer-driven innovations in workforce development, especially as it relates to frontline workers. We look forward to seeing the collaborations in Baltimore, Des Moines, and Seattle create more opportunities for training and ultimately help retail workers advance more quickly from frontline jobs to roles with greater responsibility.”

About National Fund for Workforce Solutions

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions is a national network promoting economic opportunity and prosperous communities through investment and innovation. Based in Washington D.C., the National Fund partners with philanthropy, employers, workers, public and private community organizations, and more than 30 regional collaboratives to invest in skills, improve systems, and generate good jobs. The National Fund supports civic and business leaders in promoting evidence-based practices and policies that build shared prosperity. Learn more about the National Fund and its local partners at

About Central Iowa Works

Central Iowa Works, an initiatve of United Way of Central Iowa, brings together employers and workers, public and private funding streams, and relevant partners to create and implement pathways to career advancement and employment. The No. 1 goal of Central Iowa Works is to close the skills gap and meet the needs of employers by helping them to recruit and hire qualified workers for jobs in central Iowa. At the same time, it strives to address the needs of job seekers by helping them get trained and hired for real jobs with pathways for growth.

Topics: Financial Stability

Sarah Welch

Written by Sarah Welch

Sarah Welch is the former Strategic Communications Officer at United Way of Central Iowa.