Wal-Mart Stores kicked off its annual Shareholders Week events by highlighting training and development initiatives for workers, ranging from newly launched programs supporting GED and college credits to the planned rollout of 200 new Walmart Academy locations providing training for managers and supervisors, officials said.
The programs are part of the retailer's multimillion investment in wages and training announced a year ago and are intended to do a better job of cultivating talent so as to reduce turnover, improve service and execution in stores, and ultimately, drive better productivity.
"We see training as an investment, not a cost, and it's essential to the development of our business," Michelle Knight, vice president of talent development, Walmart U.S., said. "So the skills of associates are the most important element of our business. And the more equipped they are at the job, the easier it is for them to obtain a high level of productivity, which is really what we're driving for.
"When associates are properly trained we know they're more productive, and their job satisfaction increases," she added. "And when you have higher job satisfaction, you have higher engagement. And with higher engagement you have more associates who can contribute to their own career development and to the success of Walmart."
Walmart officially launched a training infrastructure for entry-level store associates known as Pathways in February. The program provides short, game-like e-learning modules and in-store training for new hires, and assigns each employee a veteran company mentor. The program is designed to help new workers understand the possibilities inherent in a Walmart career "from day one," said Pippa Pomeroy, senior director talent development.
Workers enjoy the training programs, she added. "They say it's like playing Candy Crush," Pomeroy told SN. She said it's still too early to determine what effect Pathways has had on reducing turnover but said she was confident it would have "significant" effects over time.
"Walmart has more than 900,000 associates in entry level jobs -- our cashiers, our stockers, our unloaders and our greeters," Pomeroy said. "That's a great fuel tank to fuel our future but it also means we need to think about how we can provide clear career paths for associates, many of who might be working for us part-time and are coming to us for their first job in the working world."
The executives spoke at the site of the first "Walmart Academy" -- a 3,000-square-foot learning facility adjacent to a Walmart Supercenter in Fayetteville, Ark.
Tom Ward, VP of central operations for Walmart U.S., said the company had plans to open 90 such facilities this year and 200 by next June, each drawing students -- mostly department managers and other advanced Walmart employees -- from an average of 26 regional stores participating in a two-week program of classroom learning and training at the adjacent store.
Classroom training is done on tablets, allowing students to save and upload notes for future reference, and Walmart to quickly adjust training as needed.
Walmart has also endeavored to support workers through additional education programs including new programs to help workers obtain high school diplomas and college credits at no cost, and learn languages through Rosetta Stone.
At the Associates Meeting held earlier Wednesday Judith McKenna, COO of Walmart U.S., highlighted improved comps and traffic at stores, and said "clean, fast and friendly" scores measured by customers had increased for 79 consecutive weeks. McKenna also announced Walmart was re-introducing its "Smiley" character to highlight pricing.
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