Gap Reaches Out to Low-Income Workers

Seeking to diversify its employee base and tap underutilized talent, Gap Inc. is broadening a push to hire low-income workers with no recent work history in cities around the globe.

“This is a perfect vehicle for us to drive our business,” Brent Hyder, Gap’s head of HR, tells Bloomberg. “With a little extra training, a little extra initiative, we now have a talent pool that is predominantly diverse that may not have been there for us in the past.”

Gap’s program, called “This Way Ahead,” will focus on hiring young people ages 16-to-24 years old with no recent employment history from low-income neighborhoods in 53 cities in the U.S. and in countries such as Japan and the U.K. The new hires will be paid $10 an hour (or the minimum wage in their particular city) and will be paired with a job coach and a buddy system in which colleagues will give them advice and assistance with routine job-related tasks. Gap is planning for these new hires–whom it refers to as “Opportunity Youth”–to make up at least 5 percent of all its entry-level workers by 2025, Bloomberg reports.

The retail company will hire based on competencies rather than credentials, focusing on work ethic and time management.

Gap Inc. is just one of a multitude of retail employers fighting to attract and retain workers in the tightest labor market in recent history. Walmart, for example, announced earlier this year that it will pay for its employees to obtain college degrees and has boosted its hourly pay. Other retailers are seeking out older workers as a source of steady and reliable talent.

Gap’s initiative is an expansion of a program that’s been in existence since 2007. Participants tend to stay with Gap Inc. twice as long as their peers, and have higher engagement scores than their co-workers, Chain Store Age reports. In 2017, 80 percent of store managers who worked with This Way Ahead participants reported increased skills in key competencies like leadership and communication skills, according to the company.

“We believe in the universal power of a first job,” Hyder said.

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.