As we navigate our holiday shopping, it's easy to overlook the workers who keep the shelves full of our favorite holiday ingredients and point us in the right direction when we've completely lost our way in the baking aisle.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the grocery industry is one of the largest in the country and its 2.5 million employees are exceptionally diverse in both their purpose and their perspective. Some grocery store workers are there temporarily to earn extra money through the holidays while others hope to work their way up the ranks and make a career of it.
Coca-Cola employee and Rio Salado College student Larry Christensen is a dedicated worker and committed student who has struggled over the years to balance his work with his education.
"I started taking classes through the Maricopa Community Colleges system in the late 70's," Christensen said. "But like a lot of people, life got in the way."
According to Christensen it was difficult to commit to a college schedule when his work schedule was so eratic.
"I would start classes while working days and then get transferred to nights or vice versa," Christensen said. "I moved to different parts of the valley and started a family. Luckily for me, the Maricopa District offers a lot of options."
The option Christensen chose was the Retail Management Certificate offered through collaboration with the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) and Arizona Food Marketing Alliance (AFMA). The program is offered online through Rio Salado College and in-person at several participating colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD).
"Coca-Cola would host the classes at their Tempe location and Rio Salado would provide the administration, teachers and any other needed services," Christensen said. "The classes were held once a week for 8 to 10 weeks."
Christensen was appreciative of the flexibility of the certificate program and the understanding of the knowledgeable instructors.
"Rio acknowledged that holidays are an important part of Coca-Cola's business and started classes at different times, or gave us the opportunity to skip weeks as needed for our business," Christensen said. "The teachers also understood that a work day isn't always 8 to 5, no matter what the job description says."
Christensen also praised the program’s instructors whose real world knowledge and experience added value to the course material.
"The teachers have an understanding of their subjects because they worked in those fields," Christensen said. "The human resources teacher had been in the human resources departments of several companies and was able to help the students understand how the department works. The retail merchandising teacher worked for Safeway and helped us to understand philosophies that went way beyond the books."
Visit riosalado.edu/partnerships to learn more about partnership opportunities at Rio Salado College
This story can also be found in the December 15 edition of The Tempe Republic.