Working with the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC), and with support from ECMC Foundation, the League for Innovation in the Community College (League) is engaged in a two-year project to demonstrate that the WAFC’s industry-supported Retail Management Certificate Program (RMCP) can be a powerful portable and strategic credential to help underserved populations access career pathways in retail management.

Widely available and accessible, the eight-course RMCP prepares and equips graduates with the competencies needed for career success, while propelling many graduates toward associate or bachelor’s degrees. The RMCP certificate is awarded only by community colleges and is embedded in associate degrees that articulate to baccalaureate degrees.

WAFC-approved community colleges have significantly increased access for incumbent workers by removing high school diploma/GED requirements, eliminating placement testing, valuing work experiences, addressing certain barriers to participation by offering the program online, and mitigating cost barriers through affordable tuition rates. However, two major barriers continue to restrict access for a significant portion of WAFC’s workforce:

  • digital equity, encompassing digital literacy and access to appropriate technology and stable internet; and
  • limited English proficiency, specifically the minimum English proficiency needed to successfully complete community college classes.

Research conducted by the National Skills Coalition indicates that 37 percent of currently employed U.S. retail and wholesale workers have little to no digital skills.1 Further, the majority of this population has little to no access to a computer. Many of these workers also have no postsecondary education and represent underserved populations.2

According to the National Immigration Forum, “retail, manufacturing, logistics, food service, and accommodation sectors employ more than six million people . . . . Many of them, while experienced and talented, have limited English proficiency and are given limited responsibilities on the job.”3 This restricts their chances at career advancement and accompanying wage or salary increases.

As the nation has faced a pandemic, a recession, and a movement around social justice, the essential food industry clearly has a responsibility to ensure its practices foster economic opportunity and equity for all. Creating a more inclusive and equitable future for the industry’s workforce will require each employer to look at barriers such as English proficiency and digital literacy to ensure an on-ramp to relevant education for all workers.

This project is building the capacity of WAFC-approved community colleges to offer National Immigration Forum’s English at Work and NRF Foundation’s RISE Up programs to prepare underserved incumbent workers for the RMCP. The colleges are developing nonacademic wraparound supports, including orientation sessions, active academic and career advising, and employer and peer mentoring. Project partners are also engaging regional and national employers and state industry organizations to facilitate employer commitment and recruitment of underserved incumbent workers.

Community colleges embed the RMCP credential in related associate degree programs (e.g., business management, business administration) that articulate with baccalaureate degrees at their local or regional transfer institutions. WAFC has also identified two national university partners—Western Governors University and Brandman University—that have agreed to accept 100 percent of the RMCP courses from WAFC-approved community colleges into their baccalaureate degrees.

Cherie Phipps, Director of the WAFC’s Retail Management Certificate Program, explains that “creating a more inclusive and equitable future for our industry’s workforce will require each employer to look at additional barriers such as English proficiency and the digital divide to ensure an on-ramp for all workers to relevant education . . . that transforms their organization into one that strives for economic viability and provides opportunities for all associates to thrive.” In this project, the League, WAFC, and college partners are using the RMCP to provide the additional education that opens pathways for incumbent workers who thus far have had limited opportunities for career progression.


1Bergson-Shilcock, A. (2020, May). The New Landscape of Digital Literacy. National Skills Coalition.
2Bergson-Shilcock, A. (2020, May). The New Landscape of Digital Literacy. National Skills Coalition.
3National Immigration Forum. (n.d.). English at Work (para. 3).


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