WAFC partners with community colleges to offer Retail Management Certificate program

A ‘First-Of-Its-Kind’ Industry-Endorsed Credential

by Kristen Cloud/staff writer

Most retailers, especially the grocery industry, are looking for ways to better equip their employees. That need, because of the ever-changing business environment, sparked the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) to launch its Retail Management Certificate Program—a community college-level curriculum designed to educate retail employees in several key areas.

Cherie Phipps
Cherie Phipps

Shelby Publishing Co. VP Bob Reeves recently sat down with WAFC Education Director Cherie Phipps to discuss the growing program, which is available through approximately 160 community college locations in the western United States. It also is available online nationwide.

“Our industry, culturally, has not pushed college education, and the industry is changing,” Phipps says. “If we don’t encourage our employees to go to school we could lose our ­competitive edge. And, with the variety of new entrants into the market, we can’t afford to do that.”

The program consists of 10 separate college courses, all of which carry college credits. The key areas of study, or “core competencies,” include: written business communications, oral communications, business mathematics, bookkeeping/accounting, computer applications, introduction to management, marketing, human resources management, human ­relations/leadership and retail management/merchandising.

The program is geared to retailers, wholesalers, suppliers and manufacturers—and ­appeals to everyone from entry level to senior management, according to Phipps.

“We have partnered specifically with com­munity colleges to ensure that the program would be available, accessible and affordable to all,” she says. “The program is also quite ­flexible, and the students tell us they are thrilled that the content is so practical and relevant to the work they do.”

Some community colleges that offer the program partner with local retailers to present classes at a company location for a hands-on learning approach.

“We’re competitors, but there’s a lot of commonality,” Phipps says. “Taking the courses together with employees from all facets of the food industry creates a rich learning environment.”

As of December 2011, the WAFC has honored nearly 600 graduates and reports that thousands are enrolled annually. Students can take as much time as they need to obtain their certificates, with the bulk of the students taking between two and three years to complete the program.

Students who complete the program earn two certificates, one from the college and one from the industry. In addition, college credits earned translate to half the credits required for an Associate of Arts degree; most credits transfer to four-year colleges.

Phipps calls the certificate program a “first-of-its-kind industry-endorsed credential that is backed by the top leaders in the grocery industry.”

“It puts employees in a better place to advance and sets them on a career path,” she says.

As for tuition, Phipps says some employers offer tuition reimbursement or scholarship ­opportunities internally and present those offerings to their employees. Some employers even prepay tuition, or a substantial portion, as an incentive for employees to enroll in the program.

The program also is supported with tuition reimbursement by associations such as the California Grocers Association (CGA) and Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA).

“The WAFC urges companies to take advantage of the Retail Management Certificate Program,” Phipps says. “Grocery companies must recognize the need for more educated workers. This program has absolutely become a business imperative for our industry.”

Jack H. Brown, chairman and CEO of California-based Stater Bros. Markets, agrees. Stater Bros. employs more graduates than any other participating company.

“The WAFC Retail Management Certificate Program plays an important role in the professional development of our Stater Bros. ‘family’ members,” Brown says. “It is a meaningful program that has made a real difference and we are proud to give this excellent program our strongest support, as evidenced by the tremendous number of current participants and graduates of the program.”

California-based Food 4 Less/Foods. Co. (a Kroger company) also has found success with the program. It employs a significant number of graduates as well.

“At Food 4 Less/Foods Co. we recognize the competitive advantage that comes with having an educated and informed workforce,” says Food 4 Less/Foods Co. President Bryan Kaltenbach. “We encourage our team members to continue their education and strongly recommend the Retail Management Certificate Program because its courses provide knowledge and skills necessary to become successful in the food industry. The Retail Management Certificate Program is an important part of Food 4 Less/Foods Co.’s training and development strategy. We support our team members in the program with tuition assistance, as well as company-wide recognition upon completion of the program.”

The Retail Management Certificate Program started in California in 2000 in conjunction with the state’s community colleges to help prepare retail grocery workers for management positions and responsibilities. The curriculum has since been adopted at more than 100 community colleges in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. It is coming soon to Alaska and Texas. And, while the program can now be accessed online nationwide, Phipps points out that it could easily be replicated at community college locations from coast to coast.

[gn_box title=”What Recent Grads Say They Value Most About the Program” color=”#0033cc”] [gn_quote style=”1″]Angie MeckThere were 18 people in my facility taking the classes together. I must admit that I am at a loss for words for how wonderful this program has been and all of the benefits we have received from the classes. Everything being taught relates to our positions—in all areas of the company. Some of the students have been promoted since we began the program. In polling the other students I have heard comments such as ­‘fantastic,’ ‘beneficial’ and, my personal favorite, ‘life changing.’ In short, the benefits from this 10-class program are immeasurable.[/gn_quote]

– Angie Meck
Distribution Center Depot Manager

[gn_quote style=”1″]The fact that all the courses were structured around the needs of the industry is fantastic. Almost every day I am using something that I have learned through WAFC in my role as a senior director of operations.[/gn_quote]

– Wylie Mitchell
Senior Director of Operations
Save Mart

[gn_quote style=”1″]I am responsible for the development of my employees. This program is a great tool to help develop employees who are serious about their careers. My employees who have taken the classes tell me it is a great way to enhance skill sets that were often difficult to learn while doing their daily functions (such as computer skills, business math, business writing, human resources, etc). Whenever my employees inquire about ­moving up in the company, I give them information about the program.[/gn_quote]

– Greg Carter
Warehouse Manager


If you’re a retailer, wholesaler, supplier or manufacturer and would like more information about the WAFC-endorsed Retail Management Certificate Program and a list of participating colleges by state, visit www.wafc.com, or contact Phipps at 714-501-5775 or [email protected].

The WAFC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the food industry through education and leadership throughout the 14 western states it serves.

About the author


Kristen Cloud

A former newspaper editor and publisher, she once enjoyed leisurely perusing the grocery store aisles but, since having a baby in 2016, she is now an enthusiastic click-and-collect shopper.

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