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SILVER SPRING, Md., October 11, 2023 — Today, Escalate — an enterprise technology platform that reduces frontline employee turnover through targeted upskilling and customized support systems — announced it has raised $1.26M in pre-seed funding. Investors in the round include RockCreek, through the Racial Equity Capital Fund partnership with Exelon; Potencia Ventures; TEDCO; Techstars; ECMC Foundation; Gurtin Ventures; Blue Zone Partners; Future State; and Brad Collins.

Turnover of frontline workers and a lack of qualified pipeline for middle-skill corporate positions cost retail companies $40B per year — with turnover at consistently high rates, a majority of frontline workers report leaving their jobs because of a lack of advancement opportunities. Escalate’s platform helps companies increase frontline retention by 50% or more.

“Escalate harnesses the latest technology to solve the billion-dollar crisis of frontline employee turnover and to prepare workers to meet the challenges of the future,” said Maria Woodman, director at RockCreek. “We’re proud to partner with Sean Segal, Sienna Daniel and the Escalate team to grow and scale their work to help businesses minimize turnover and maximize talent, which will strengthen companies and communities throughout the country.”

Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, Escalate identifies a company’s most overlooked incumbent workers, and then provides skills training powered by automated coaching, facilitated community and on-demand champions — all designed to reduce absenteeism and increase retention. Escalate’s platform goes beyond just learning to encompass the wraparound services that frontline employees need to be successful.

“This funding will give more employers access to our platform, offering completely asynchronous and high-support courses that help individuals succeed in their jobs and see a path to upward mobility,” said Sean Segal, co-founder and CEO of Escalate. “This investment will allow Escalate to scale to empower and support thousands of frontline workers, reducing turnover and positively impacting employers' bottom lines by solving enterprise companies’ most significant talent challenges.”

“Frontline workers are overwhelmingly from historically marginalized communities,” said Sienna Daniel, co-founder and president of Escalate. “We’re thrilled to close this investment round as we work to provide often-overlooked employees with a path to double their wages in 12-to-18 months, while saving companies significant dollars by reducing their frontline turnover.”

“Escalate is poised to solve some of our most pressing workforce issues — ensuring companies lower costs and retain talent, and helping frontline workers achieve unprecedented levels of economic mobility and agency to build their career pathway,” said Taylor McLemore, CEO & partner at Future State, and investor in residence at Techstars. “I look forward to watching them scale and lead in this space for years to come.”

For more information and to see a product demo, visit

Cohort based learning
Cohort Based Learning


The 2020 pandemic has brought about significant changes in the business and organizational landscape, with remote or hybrid work becoming the most popular approach. This shift has not only affected work but also learning. In general, learning shifted more towards digital and many organizations started providing self-paced online courses to their employees to acquire desired skills. However, research has shown that even massive open online course (MOOC) completion rates hover in the single digits, despite major platforms’ ongoing efforts to retain students.

That’s why, Learning & Development experts have had to devise new strategies to enable learning and they came up with cohort based learning to foster continued learning for online training sessions. The power of Cohort based learning can be realized by any organization.

Unlocking the Power of Cohort-based Learning

Initially associated with academia, cohort learning quickly gained recognition for its positive impact on employee training. Brandi Hytower, Director of Learning Operations & Technology at GP Strategies Corporation, identifies four key benefits of cohort learning from participants point-of-view:

  • Increased Accountability: Cohort learning cultivates a sense of accountability among employees, as they are answerable not just to supervisors and managers but also to their peers within the cohort.

  • Added Value through Diverse Perspectives: Cohort learning encourages employees to gain insights from their colleagues, facilitating the exchange of ideas that may align with or differ from their own viewpoints, thereby enhancing learning outcomes.

  • Spontaneous Learning and Productivity: Engaging in cohort discussions often leads to spontaneous "a-ha" moments and the generation of innovative ideas, making the learning process enjoyable and productive.

  • Collaboration and Growth: Cohort learning fosters collaboration at its core, enabling employees to learn, share experiences, and grow together.

Researchers have also concluded that while cohorts have a higher rate of completion, they also positively and strongly affect an employee’s career development.

Moreover, organizations also benefit from Cohort Learning. According to Walmart, employees who completed the cohort-based storefront training showed a 10% improvement in sales, underlining the impact of cohort-based training on performance.

Home Depot has a "Leadership Development Program" which prepares high-potential employees for leadership roles through a series of cohort-based training sessions. These employees are 2.5 times more likely to receive a promotion and 2 times more likely to stay with the company, suggesting that such training not only aids in business continuity through effective succession planning but also contributes to reduced turnover.

Overall, organizations get multiple benefits out of cohort-based training. A few of them are highlighted below:

1. Improved Teamwork and Collaboration

Cohort training involves grouping employees together for training, allowing them to learn together over a set period of time. This can foster a sense of community, promote teamwork, and enhance collaboration. In the retail sector, where coordinated work between different sections and teams is often crucial for smooth operations, this benefit can lead to more effective workflows and improved customer service.

2. Uniformity in Knowledge and Skill Sets

Through cohort training, all employees in a group receive the same level and quality of training. This can ensure uniformity in knowledge and skills across the retail organization. In turn, this uniformity can lead to a consistent customer experience, which is an important business goal for many retailers.

3. Reduction in Training Costs

Cohort training allows organizations to train a large number of employees simultaneously, which can be more cost-effective than individualized training. Reduced training costs can lead to better allocation of resources, thus improving the financial health of the retail organization.

4. Increased Employee Retention and Engagement

Cohort training can make the learning process more engaging for employees as they can learn from each other and share experiences. This shared learning experience can foster a sense of belonging and engagement, which can reduce employee turnover—a significant concern in the retail industry.

5. Accelerated Onboarding

With cohort training, new hires can learn together, getting acclimated to the company culture and processes more quickly. This helps to bring them up to speed rapidly, enabling them to contribute to the organization's goals sooner.

6. Better Succession Planning

Cohort training can help identify potential leaders among the group, as their leadership skills often become apparent during these sessions. Retail organizations can use this insight for better succession planning, thus ensuring the continuity of business.

7. Enhanced Innovation and Problem-solving

By training together, employees can share diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas, leading to innovative solutions and strategies. This can greatly enhance problem-solving capabilities in a retail setting where unforeseen challenges are common.

8. Enhanced work culture

Cohort learning promotes a learning culture within the organization. When employees engage in learning together, it sends a message that continuous learning and development are valued. This can foster a culture of curiosity, growth, and adaptability, which are essential in today's fast-paced and evolving work environment.

How Cohort-based training can be made more effective?

When running cohort-based training in an organization, there are several key points that should be kept in mind:

1. Clear Objectives: Each training session should have clear, defined objectives that align with both the individual's job role and the broader business goals. This ensures that all training is relevant and targeted.

2. Participant Engagement: Ensure the training is interactive and engaging. Use a variety of formats and methods to cater to different learning styles. Incorporate role-play scenarios, group discussions, and hands-on activities relevant to retail operations.

3. Group Composition: The composition of the cohort is crucial. Try to mix employees from different roles, departments, or locations to encourage a variety of perspectives and enhance team collaboration.

4. Real-life Business Scenarios: Use case studies and scenarios based on actual situations that may occur in a retail setting. This will help employees better understand and apply what they're learning.

5. Periodic Assessments: Regular feedback and assessments can help track the progress of each participant and the effectiveness of the training program. It also allows for adjustments to be made as necessary.

6. Support and Mentoring: Encourage experienced employees or leaders to mentor the cohort. This not only aids learning but also strengthens bonding within the team.

7. Flexibility: Be open to adjusting the training program based on feedback from participants. Each cohort may have different strengths and weaknesses, and being flexible allows the training to best meet their needs.

8. Consistent Learning: Learning should not stop when the training program ends. Encourage continuous learning and development through follow-up sessions, additional resources, and ongoing support.

9. Evaluation of Training: Post-training evaluations should be conducted to assess the effectiveness of the training and its impact on performance. This can provide valuable insights for improving future training programs.

By keeping these points in mind, retail organizations can ensure that their cohort-based training programs are as effective as possible and contribute significantly to their business goals.


Cohort learning is a dynamic approach that harnesses the power of community, collaboration, and accountability in the learning process. It builds stronger communities, fosters engagement, and drives efficient learning outcomes. Moreover, cohort learning contributes to a positive work culture, enhances talent development, and generates cost savings for organizations. By embracing cohort learning, organizations can cultivate a culture of continuous learning, maximize employee potential, and thrive in the evolving business landscape.

Essential skill training in retail
Essential Skill Training in Retail

Even as retail businesses maintain a focus on job-specific training and role-based expertise, the so-called 'hard skills,' there is an escalating need to incorporate essential skills training as an important component of employee development.

Essential (or soft) skills, including personality traits, communication acuity, and creative problem-solving, are pivotal in facilitating an employee's upward mobility, and concurrently contribute to the overall organizational success.

Unfolding the Soft Skills Spectrum

Soft skills encompass the unique behavioral characteristics that enable an individual to meet or exceed their job objectives.

For retail employees, particularly those in customer-facing roles, the following soft skills hold paramount importance and should be the part of Essential Skill Training in Retail Industry:

1. Communication Skills: This includes being able to speak clearly and listen effectively, and it's crucial for interacting with customers, understanding their needs, and relaying information about products or services.

2. Empathy: Retail employees often interact with customers who may be frustrated or need assistance. Being able to understand and share the feelings of another can greatly improve the customer experience.

3. Patience: Dealing with customers, particularly in challenging situations, requires patience. Customers will have questions, complaints, or may need time to make decisions; being patient can make these interactions go more smoothly.

4. Problem-Solving Skills: Retail employees are often on the front lines of dealing with issues and complaints, so they need to be able to come up with solutions that satisfy the customer and are in line with the company's policies.

5. Adaptability: Every day in retail can bring new challenges. Adaptability is key to handling sudden changes in situations or adapting to different types of customers' needs.

6. Teamwork: Retail employees often work as part of a team. Being able to work well with others, collaborate on tasks, and maintain a positive group dynamic is crucial.

7. Positive Attitude: Maintaining a cheerful and positive demeanor can help create a welcoming store environment. This can make customers feel more comfortable and can help diffuse tense situations.

8. Multitasking: Retail employees often have to juggle multiple tasks at once, from helping customers to restocking shelves and managing transactions.

9. Time Management: Especially during busy times, being able to efficiently manage time is essential. This could mean prioritizing tasks or managing one's own schedule effectively.

10. Resilience: Working in retail can be challenging, with long hours, demanding customers, and busy periods such as the holiday season. Being able to maintain one's performance and stay motivated in spite of these challenges is a valuable skill.

11. Cultural Awareness: In today's diverse society, it's crucial to respect and be aware of different cultures, languages, and traditions. This awareness can enhance the customer experience and ensure that all customers feel welcome and understood.

These skills contribute to a wholesome work environment, elevating productivity levels and guiding the organization towards its success path. They also boost an employee's self-confidence, aiding them in both personal and professional spheres.

According to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, the glaring skills gap in the US job market largely pertains to soft skills. A technically competent workforce lacking requisite soft skills can create significant operational hurdles. For instance, acquiring customers is fruitless unless they are effectively retained, a feat achievable through honed soft skills.

Soft Skills Training: The Key to Unlocking Potential

Acknowledging this paradigm, retail businesses have begun to develop training programs focused on nurturing these skills in their employees.

A study conducted by LinkedIn across 100 metropolitan US cities reveals that a staggering 1.4 million individuals fall short in effective communication skills, a potential game-changer for organizational success. Initiating soft skills training can be a transformational first step towards enhanced outcomes.

Organizations have been rolling out full-fledged soft skills courses or integrating crucial aspects into existing curricula. The returns from these investments have been substantial and rewarding.

Potential Benefits of Soft Skills Training:

1. Enhanced Productivity and Efficiency: A harmonious work environment thrives on the soft skills of its employees. Like-minded colleagues, motivated by mutual respect and understanding, are likely to accomplish tasks quicker, resulting in elevated organizational productivity. Appropriate skills empower employees to recognize challenges and devise solutions.

2. Improved Leadership and Problem-Solving Abilities: Developing leadership, time management, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills can yield remarkable results for any organization.

3. Soft Skills are hard to automate: The rise of AI has sparked job replacement fears. While AI excels in technical skills, soft skills, especially emotional intelligence, remain a distinctively human attribute.

4. Superior Client/Customer Relations: Refined communication skills enable employees to interact effectively with colleagues, express ideas, delegate work, provide constructive feedback, and receive criticism gracefully. These skills also aid in establishing cordial relations with clients, enhancing customer service, and consequently boosting customer retention and satisfaction.

5. Employee Retention: When organizations invest in their employees' growth and well-being, it often results in greater job satisfaction and loyalty, leading to lower turnover rates.

6. Fostering Adaptability and Flexibility: As businesses continue to evolve with changing trends and technological advancements, employers value employees with soft skills such as flexibility, resilience, and problem-solving. These skills enable individuals to handle challenges, adapt to new technologies, and contribute meaningfully to organizational growth.

Concluding Thoughts on Essential Skill Training in Retail Industry

Gone are the days when hiring decisions were solely based on a resume. In today's dynamic marketplace, employees must continuously adapt and deliver results that help organizations meet their fluctuating goals. For retail companies, monitoring and developing their workforce's behavior, attitude, and interpersonal attributes is a critical aspect of their success strategy. The means employed for such development must align with their budget and requirements.

While companies invest in these developmental initiatives, it is incumbent upon the employees to approach these opportunities with sincerity and enthusiasm, ensuring the time and effort invested are worthwhile. The harmonious marriage of technical acumen and soft skills is the need of the hour in the retail industry.

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