Career development could be an ace up Whole Foods’ sleeve

Apprenticeships are the leading edge of the chain’s attempt to make grocery careers more appealing.

Low pay. Irregular hours.

A chart compares hours required for certification in various industries — Certified Cheese Professional (4k hours) tops the list, ahead of Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (3k hours), certified electrician (2k hours), physical therapist specialist (2k hours), and commercial airline pilot (1.5k hours).

… We haven’t even gotten to the “dealing with customers” part and already these common descriptors of working in a grocery store aren’t sounding like the most appealing long-term career prospect.

That’s an opening for Whole Foods Market, which is looking to improve on the grocery industry’s typical high-turnover workforce through its career development initiatives, per Axios.

Its tool of choice: Culinary apprenticeships

In September, CEO Jason Buechel said Whole Foods’ previous year saw 11k+ employee promotions, with an expanding roster of paid apprenticeship programs playing a key role in their internal development model.

  • Existing apprentice tracks: butchery, cheesemongering, bakery decoration.
  • Next additions: pizza-making, produce specialist, and fishmongering.

The on-the-job training programs are intensive, sometimes yearslong paths for Whole Foods employees, but there’s a prize at the end: expert-level certification and expanded growth opportunities.

It’s not a hard bargain for employees; for instance, would you rather pay ~$4k for an eight-month meat-cutting certification, or get paid while you complete that education?

More loyal employees mean more happy customers?

Six years after Amazon’s $13.7B acquisition of Whole Foods that sought to disrupt the grocery world, you can feel the tech giant’s DNA all over the stores — from expanded, redesigned stores to palm-reading payment tech — but only to limited effect.

  • For all the fanfare, the chain carries just a 1% share of the US grocery market.

Still, they can afford to play the long game, and they’re betting on long-lasting employee satisfaction — then projecting that team’s expertise to build on a reputation for higher-quality groceries — as a differentiator.

  • To wit, Whole Foods proudly hails itself as the world’s top employer of Certified Cheese Professionals.

Good for them. Just don’t come for our crown as the top employer of cheese-eating professionals.

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Topics: Careers Food

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