ARC’s New Career-Mapping Tool Launches Next Month. Here’s What You Need to Know.

April 24, 2024
By The Association for Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC)

The CMA will soon unveil “Career Launch,” a skills matrix designed to help our members – whether hiring managers or employees, new or experienced, remote or on-site — take the next steps in their professional lives.  The tool marries cutting-edge data science and good old-fashioned insights from industry experts to help members assess their current competencies while offering clear, fact-based, actionable advice on ways to upskill to shape their career paths in the desired way.

Last week, we sat down with ARC President Emily Callahan to get a sneak peak of what members can expect.

Q: How did the idea for Career Launch come about?

Callahan: Let’s go back to the 2023 CMA Conference. In my keynote, I referenced a Bloomberg article where the headline said America’s worst jobs were in retail. Now, the article was really talking about low-paying retail jobs, but the issue of retail’s perception really stuck with me. So we started to think about ways that we could debunk that headline.

Three facts stood out to us.

First and foremost, the data supporting retail’s importance to the U.S. economy is just overwhelming. Retail accounts for over $3.9 trillion in annual GDP, employs 52 million Americans, and is the largest private-sector employer in the U.S.

Secondly – and our members know this, because they live it – but retail and consumer jobs are vast, rich, interesting, cutting-edge. The technology in our industry is unbelievable. What’s more, the opportunities to problem-solve, to research, to think outside-the-box, are limitless in the retail and CPG fields.

Finally, we thought about category management and its role as both a destination and a gateway for rewarding careers. In our experience, CatMan is a hub – Grand Central Station – for many professionals navigating different career paths in our industry.

With these key points in mind, we set out to do two things.

One, we wanted to do some extensive, data-driven career-mapping of the fields adjacent to category management to see how retail and CPG professionals work their way up in our fields.

Secondly, we wanted to take that data, as well as the insights of industry leaders and our ARC board advisors, to create a self-assessment guide for individuals looking to move forward in their careers: whether up the ladder in their current function, or across to a different retail- or CPG-related role. Put that together, and that is the basis for Career Launch.

Q: How did the data-driven career mapping work?

Callahan: The first thing we did was partner with XGS.ai, one of our sibling companies. They are experts in data analysis, and they were essential to the project. We provided context and domain and knowledge, and XGS produced relevant results and created the right data model, with the proper context.

The first thing we did was work with XGS to collect 6,000 LinkedIn profiles, with 127,000 years of career experience. If you put that end to end, that’ll take you all the way back to the Paleolithic period back when cavemen were just discovering fire for the first time.

But career timelines alone don’t tell much of a story. We identified 54 attributes that we could use to understand what really matters in people’s careers. For instance, we looked at education, college major, seniority, etc.

After cleaning up the data, we could then have XGS do some analysis. We started by looking at director-level roles. We loosely assumed that people would follow the career progression of analyst to manager, senior manager and director.

So, here’s what we found: of the 6,000 individuals we looked at, 200 achieved the director role. Of those 200, only one person went analyst to manager, senior manager, then director. We found that paths are totally unique, and you couldn’t generate a prescriptive path.

Still, we were able to find a lot of interesting insights all the same. For instance, we looked at job hopping. Meaning: how many roles should you have before becoming a director? Was there a sweet spot? What we found was that seven was about the number of jobs someone needed to be a director. Anything more than that, and the probability of being a director decreased.

We also looked at the importance of a college degree, specifically a master’s degree. When XGS ran the data, we found that a master’s degree has about 1.75 times the impact of a bachelor’s degree. However, a master’s degree wasn’t a cure-all. For example, a bachelor’s in marketing, along with 10% of a career spent as an analyst, was just as impactful as the master’s degree alone.

Q: That’s compelling data! Can you elaborate on how the industry helped shape the skills matrix?

Callahan: Certainly. We started by gathering members from the industry, as well as ARC advisory board members, and we set out to map the 15 most adjacent roles to category management. What’s more, we defined those roles, with the skills and core competencies essential for those careers. From there, we began to chart the levels of mastery of the skills needed in each roles, and we suddenly had several giant Excel spreadsheets full of data.

Well, of course, that doesn’t make a great visual experience. We wanted something more dynamic for our members to be able to explore and learn, so our engineer teams made a web interface, where users can easily explore the roles, definitions, and competencies.

Q: Explain how someone might use Career Launch for self-evaluation – and why it’s an ideal tool for this work.

Callahan: We’ve designed the tool to assess your current skills and give you actionable steps to bridge any gaps to move to where you want to go in your career. For example: let’s suppose you are a category manager, who wants to move into space planning. The tool, based on a series of questions you answer, will assess how you rank relative to industry benchmarks of you and your peers. You will get an objective view of your skills and gaps. What’s more, the tool will also suggest – and in many cases, link directly to — training coursework, content from our member Resource Library, and other tools needed to take that next step in your competency. In short: we will deliver personalized, smart content for you.

Q: Our industry changes fast. How will Career Launch keep up with the speed of technology?

Callahan: Here’s what’s great about this tool. As more and more users interact with it, the tool is designed to interpret trends, and will continue to get more and more intuitive. What’s more, we will routinely review and update job descriptions, skills, and traits as industries change. For instance: if we rolled this tool out five years ago, AI and ML wouldn’t have been major skills, right? Well, as you noted, things change fast here.

Q: If you want to leave our audience with one takeaway about Career Launch and the future of retail, what is it?

Callahan: The path to success is rarely a straight line. We know this intuitively, and our research on this project further drilled that home. But there’s the thing: that journey is filled with all kinds of twists and turns and discoveries that reward those who stick with it in the retail and CPG industries, who have that unwavering commitment to growth. We’re all-in on the future of the industry, and we’re all-in on the people. That’s why we’re so excited about Career Launch, and what it could mean for our members.