July 2021, Walmart announced that it pay 100% of the tuition and books for the training and career development of its American associates.
Lee decided to try his luck. She enrolled in University College Denver’s 12-week Frontline Manager Leadership Program (FMLP), a decision that changed her life.
The University College is a partner of guild education, a career opportunities platform that enables forward-thinking employers to invest in their employees by unlocking life-changing opportunities for personal and professional growth through education and learning programs, skills development career and individual coaching.
Guild and its corporate partners saw a need for leadership development among front line managers in a range of industries: retail, hospitality and fast casual. Guild approached University College to develop an innovative leadership program for these aspiring and current managers, and in September 2021 the first FMLP cohort was launched.
Lee was misplaced when she signed up for the program. She was separated from her husband and her mother was hospitalized with COVID-19. She called it a “very dark time” and was reluctant to apply, but her father encouraged her to pursue. When her acceptance letter arrived shortly after her application, “I knew it was a sign,” she says.
According to FMLP program director Greg Lorenz, University College makes enrollment accessible through a simple application process. There are no prior education requirements to participate in the program.
“Our students really have a variety of formal educational experiences. Some positive, some less than positive,” says Lorenz. “One of the benefits of the program is that we can build their confidence and help transform their thinking.”
The program is offered four times a year to employees of select Guild partner companies, such as Walmart, Target, Chipotle, Kohls and Macy’s, and attracts 325 students each term. Students reside in all 50 states and attend online classes and a weekly live session via Zoom.
Most students in the program are in or aspire to be in leadership or management positions, Lorenz says. This work experience brings the teaching materials to life.
“Students bring everyday scenarios into everyday classroom situations and then connect the concepts and what they learn in the classroom to what they experience,” he says.
Course rosters often include students from the same organization – although they may be from different departments and different locations – so they have peer support and can network within the course.
“They speak the same organizational language, they know the culture and they know the promotion process. They help each other,” says Lorenz.
Assistant instructors – called faculty coaches – teach a class of 18 students and mentor these students during the course and after it ends. Students participate in five one-on-one leadership coaching sessions each term, plus three additional sessions after course completion.
Leadership coaching sessions are designed to help students apply and relate the concepts of the program to everyday life – developing confidence with public speaking or resolving work-related conflict, for example.
“It’s a very intentional conversation to help students grow, and that’s really where…the transformation happens,” says Lorenz.
Lee felt supported by her coach throughout her training. When her mother passed away shortly before class began, the grief and pain was so intense that Lee doubted she could continue.
“I had no one to cheer me on except my coach. She inspired me to keep going and was so positive and powerful with her words, she really inspired me,” Lee says.
Many FMLP faculty coaches are experienced executive or professional coaches. As a group, they help each other and have their own brainstorming sessions, according to Lorenz. “It’s a very stimulating and supportive community.”
University College offers career-focused content for busy adults, including undergraduate and graduate certificates and diplomas, non-credit professional development courses through the Center for Professional Development, and short courses for love of learning through the enrichment program and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. FMLP students can continue their leadership development by applying their FMLP credits to the Leading Teams undergraduate certificate or University College bachelor’s degree program.
“We provide access to a very high quality education that I would say these students probably haven’t had the opportunity, the confidence or the ability to [pursue]says Lorenz of the FMLP program.
According to a recent survey, 93% of students say they intend to continue their education after participating in the frontline management program. Sarah Lee does just that. She is now in college pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“If anyone thinks they can’t go back to school because they’re scared, I’m here to tell you that you get it! Through trials and tribulations, there is light at the end. Don’t give up on your dreams,” Lee says.