Retail’s Pathways: All jobs are important to the fabric of our economy

by Lisette Engel   •  

This post is a part of our November blog series on Retail Pathways, to continue the conversation about our latest report, Retail’s Opportunity, which was released during the 2016 National Opportunity Summit, thanks to the support of the Walmart Foundation. Did you miss our first three? Here are links to Savion, Jordan and Melissa’s stories on how opportunities in retail led to broader career pathways for each of them.

When you’re a first generation Latina, things can go one of two ways:

You can grow up and fulfill the prophecy of what you hear your entire life growing up which is to make your family proud, go to college, get a good job, and achieve the American Dream; or

You can grow up and get a job that requires little or no education in which your parents and family members are not proud of, but end up saying it was what you were meant for.

Here’s the thing, just because a job doesn’t require a college degree doesn’t mean it’s not important to the fabric of our economy, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful.

I went on to college. However, while I had landed a “good job,” I still needed some extra money so one year during the holiday season I applied at one of my favorite stores for a seasonal job. I was only supposed to work at The Limited from Black Friday through the end of December. I was going to win a gift card, get paid, and be on my way. But I enjoyed the job so much that when the holidays were over and they needed some extra help, I decided to stay. Within a few weeks, I was suddenly laid off from my primary job and found myself unemployed. Except, I wasn’t. My retail store manager said that I had scored high enough on my original assessment (which I have to admit was really hard!) and that they would like to offer me a job with growth potential to a management position! I accepted.

I had very limited retail experience before this job, and my time at The Limited was life-changing. There is so much to keep track of all at once – from opening registers, to forecasting sales goals, motivating staff, supervising staff, delegating tasks, problem solving, and conflict resolution. If you can make an unhappy customer happy and have them sign up for a credit card, you honestly can go out in the world and do anything!

I can’t think of another career that teaches you the soft skills that retail does. Working retail helped me understand the importance of employee morale, appreciating others for their hard work, and being extremely organized. Working in this industry is also challenging: people working retail rise to the plate because they are determined to meet numbers, have to provide for their families, and are the face of a corporation so the pressures of keeping it all together day in and day out are not easy.

As for me, I was quickly promoted to Lead Associate, and was told that I could start training as an Assistant Manager. At the same time, I ended up finding a job closer to my original field (in the nonprofit sector) so I had to make the hard decision of quitting. I only worked retail for six months, but to this day I remember the benefits of a good pep talk, the importance of effective leadership and teamwork, and the fact that no matter where we work people skills are the most important skill in any place. Give retail workers more credit – they’re more prepared to make it out in the real world than you’ll ever know.


Lisette Engel at a National Crittenton Foundation conference, which was focused on the importance of social capital and helping women expand their social networks.


Lisette Engel

Lisette is an Opportunity Leader and an advocate for girls and young mothers. Read her blog at SingleMamaChronicle.

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