Retail foundation to open training center in Miami
By Charlotte Libov
A national retail training program is taking its first step into Florida with a new Miami center.
The National Retail Federation Foundation will partner with the Workforce Development Coordinating Council of Metro Dade, a group comprised of the Beacon Council, the South Florida Workforce and other agencies involved in helping people find work here.
The new center, the Customer Service Technical Academy, will be at the Lindsey Hopkins Technical Educational Center. Beginning Feb. 18, it will provide six-week training programs for what is hoped will become some of the 1,180 retail workers who will staff the Shops at Midtown, the large retail center expected to open in July.
No students have been enrolled, but 130 people have signed up to be tested, according to Carlos A. Manrique, a specialist with the Miami-Dade Division of Workforce Development Education who recently returned from touring a similar program at the Garden State Mall in New Jersey, among the largest retail malls in the US.
Students, he said, will spend four weeks in the classroom studying customer service and two weeks working in the mall. After that, the aim is that they will be hired there.
They will also study management at Miami-Dade College. Child care will be available, students who do not have high-school diplomas can enroll in a GED course, and supplemental training in math and computers will be offered.
According to Mr. Manrique, the most important part of the program is to ensure that there are jobs for the students when they graduate. "That's part of the Beacon Council's job," he said.
According to Sharita Allen, the Beacon Council's assistant vice president for urban initiatives, the council will work with the National Retail Federation, the Florida Retail Federation and local retailers to make sure that happens.
"We'll be working with the NRF nationally, we'll be working on the state level, and also we'll be working locally with some of the largest retailers in the area," she said.
Maria Alonso, a senior vice president at Bank of America and chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Education Committee, said her group had planned to be involved, but she was surprised to learn from a reporter's phone call that the program was about to start. "Obviously, we haven't been kept aware of it," she said.
The program is being operated in partnership with the foundation, part of the Washington-based National Retail Federation, the largest association of retailers in the world. In addition to the Beacon Council and South Florida Workforce, members include the office of the county mayor, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Miami-Dade College.
According to Sarah Conrad, foundation director of operations for training, the National Retail Federation began opening training centers in 1997 and now has 18. This will be the first in Florida. "Most of the centers are in the Northeast corridor, but we do have a center in Louisiana and one in Durham, NC," she said.
"It's a really exciting project," Ms. Allen said. "From our standpoint, our interest is primarily the access for the jobs that will be created at the Shops at Midtown, but there are also a lot of other opportunities for retail.
"We're looking at career path opportunities, not just entry level jobs, so the students know that they are advancing up the ladder," she said.
The idea for the center was born, Mr. Manrique said, when "the people at the new mall told us, the Beacon Council, as well as all forms of government, that they would need 1,180 trained retail workers by July 1."
A National Retail Federation trainer is to arrive in Florida next Wednesday to train the instructors to teach the six-week sessions. Also on that day, staff at South Florida Workforce are to interview prospective students to determine which qualify for free admittance. Those who don't qualify pay 25% of the course, which comes out to about $270 per student. The remaining 75% is picked up by the state, Mr. Manrique said.
"I'm excited about it. This is the first time that all of these groups have come together," said Rick Beasley, executive director of South Florida Workforce. "You're looking at this group initially, but this could lead to thousands and thousands of people being placed in jobs."
Each graduate will receive national certification, Ms. Conrad said. There are certifications in customer service, sales, and a just-launched certificate in management. The federation trains the instructors, supplies the curriculum and certifies the diplomas.
While Miami-Dade has a historically low unemployment rate, Mr. Manrique acknowledged that not everyone who could be employed is job-ready. Although anyone is welcome in the program, he said, he is hoping to see enrolled people who are "unemployed and underemployed."
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