Walmart Academy raises questions over who benefits from training programs
- Training programs are at the heart of a Walmart rebranding effort focused on positioning the company as a worker-focused and community minded company, reports the New York Times. The retail giant's Walmart Academy has classrooms in 150 stores across the country where employees learn skills ranging from how to create profit and loss statements to better management skills.
- In addition to Walmart Academy, which is for workers on a managerial track, Walmart runs Pathways, a separate training program for entry-level employees. Most of the 380,000 workers in the program receive a $1 an hour raise for completing the training, the Times says.
- According to the Times, in the last two years, Walmart invested $2.7 billion in worker training initiatives and higher wages for 1.2 million of its workers in response to increased competition. Walmart faces a formidable challenge from Amazon and a key differentiator for the brick-and-mortar retailer could be creating a pleasant in-store shopping experience, which requires an engaged and well-trained workforce, the Times notes.
Walmart has a rocky past when it comes to worker-oriented policies, but it has taken steps to address some assertions. Worker advocacy groups like the National Employment Law Project have asserted for years that Walmart and other companies operating in low-wage industries like retail should be prioritizing a living wage of $15 an hour for workers. In 2015, Walmart raised its starting wage to $9 an hour, $1.75 above the federal minimum wage.
However, wages aren't the only factor at play. There's no question that many low-wage, low-skill industries struggle with worker retention and engagement — training programs could be one solution to those challenges. Some employers have focused on helping workers gain access to continuing education outside the workplace, but in some industries, an in-house solution may be more sustainable.
What works for white-collar workers may not be appropriate for blue-collar workers, experts note. Education benefits should be guided by employee needs, meaning for some workers job-applicable skills training is a good solution, but that needs to be tempered in cases such as Walmart's with an understanding of exactly how the skills gained help employees.
The retail-focused skills Walmart workers gain through training won’t likely make up for the high-paying manufacturing jobs workers used to have access to in many rural areas. A training program that only prepares workers to be better Walmart employees may be good for the company, but could fall short of truly helping workers and through them boosting the broader community. But, a program that builds management or entrepreneurial skills could help the workforce at large by honing skills workers might not otherwise be able to develop.