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In 2019, Goodwill Industries of Central Oklahoma started dreaming about an apprenticeship program that would produce a stronger, more resilient workforce. Director of Training and Employment Services Amara Schook and her team at Goodwill envisioned creating more than just a job-training program. The company’s Donated Goods Retail division and the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development (OOWD) collaborated to develop an apprenticeship program that would be the model for other retail apprenticeship programs in the area.
With a year of planning, the team designed Goodwill’s Retail Apprenticeship Program that includes promoting workers from within in the company’s existing workforce to elevate the company, staff and industry.
“Some of Goodwill’s most valuable assets are our employees,” Schook said. “They are the foundation of our success, and through the apprenticeship program, we wanted to provide them with a career they can grow in and flourish.”
Seeking to create more than a training and instruction program, Schook and her team created an employment incubator where apprentices could try new ideas, learn foundational skills and develop lasting business relationships. Apprentices are able to observe several store locations and practice skills like streamlining front-line services, growing and developing team members, and building toward supervisory and management positions.
The new skills and knowledge gained by apprentices are helping create stronger employees within Goodwill while also developing a more formidable workforce strategy. Upon completion of the program, the apprentices will have earned several industry certifications recognized by the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association recognized in more than 45 countries.
“We are training our apprentices to advance within the larger retail industry, not necessarily to stay at Goodwill,” Schook said. “We hope they continue using their skills within our company, but one of our top goals is to provide transferable skills to our apprentices that they can take with them to other management positions which will create a stronger retail industry as a whole.”
Already, Goodwill has observed a stronger, more motivated workforce, but these improvements are not characteristics limited to the program’s apprentices. Experienced, specialized employees help mentor the apprentices and guide them into more advanced positions. While mentors are empowered to share their knowledge and teach apprentices how to grow their skills, Schook and her team have witnessed a fresh confidence in the mentors that they didn’t anticipate.
“We select mentors based on their exceptional skill and commitment to their work at Goodwill, and we pair them with apprentices who can learn from their experience,” Schook said. “Encouraging our mentors to share their skills and knowledge has given our company a renewed energy we weren’t expecting but one that we’re very proud of.”
Many of the apprentices in the program are employed at stores within 35 miles of the central location. The close proximity of the apprentices to the home office is convenient, allowing employees to focus on learning and growing new skills rather than travel. However, Schook and her team look forward to expanding the program statewide to develop more of the company’s most valuable assets.