In February, Walmart opened its first training academy to teach new employees critical retail skills such as putting out the right pricing displays and knowing which items are turning a profit and why. By the second quarter of 2017, Walmart says it will have 200 academies with dedicated teaching staffs and students commuting from nearby stores. The academies will occupy about 3,000 square feet outside of Walmart stores.
Most students will live within 40 to 50 miles of an academy, says Walmart. Each store with an academy will have 15-17 extra workers, mostly managers, designed to serve as mentors to new employees while they apply their new skills in Walmart's some 4,600 U.S. stores. The training program will take two weeks, and employees get compensated for their time and travel.
The first academy opened on Feb. 20, the same day the world's largest retailer lifted wages for over 1.2 million workers. Walmart pointed out that stores with an academy have seen improved customer service scores.
"There is a war for talent, we realize the retail environment is changing," said a Walmart executive presenting to a group of reporters at an event for the company's annual shareholder's meeting on Wednesday. When asked by TheStreet if Walmart fears losing its newly-trained employees to competing retailers, the executive said the company believes such training investments can help it keep employees happy and stay because they gain confidence they'll eventually be promoted.
The new training, which Walmart calls "upskilling," is one part of a broader investment Walmart has been undertaking in its associates.
Walmart raised its minimum wage for store workers hired before Jan. 1 to at least $10 per hour from $9 an hour back in February. New entry-level workers will continue to start at $9 an hour but can move to $10 an hour in as soon as six months by going through the training and development program called Pathways.
Walmart workers that already earned more than $10 an hour received a pay increase of about 2%, according to the company.
In addition to doling out modestly fatter paychecks each week and providing more training, Walmart has simplified its paid-time off policy and eliminated a one-day waiting policy to use sick time. And full-time hourly workers can carry over up to 80 hours (48 hours for part time) of paid time off from year to year.
A Walmart spokesman said the company has not broken down the dollar amount spent specifically on wages increases versus investments in training and scheduling. But Walmart says it spent about $1.2 billion last year on its investment in its workers, and will spend another $1.5 billion this year for a two-year total of $2.7 billion.