Lowe’s on Thursday announced "Track to the Trades," a new employee initiative launching March 1 in Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh and Richmond, VA that aims to provide innovative career paths and financial support for employees to pursue a skilled trades career, with upfront tuition funding for trade skill certification, academic coaching and support and placement opportunities for full-time pre-apprenticeships in Lowe’s nationwide contractor network, according to a press release.
The program will expand to qualified Lowe's part- and full-time employees nationwide by the end of the year. Eligible employees can receive up to $2,500 to gain certification and a pre-apprenticeship in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing or appliance repair. Pre-apprenticeships take about six to 10 months, and participants will receive enrollment guidance and a field mentor.
Track to the Trades aims to address an impending skilled trades gap of more than a half million jobs across construction-related fields by 2026, Lowe’s said, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicating that the nation’s need for workers in skilled trades is increasing faster than the growth of employment. Home Improvement Research Institute data show more than 60% of skilled trade professionals say there’s a labor shortage in the construction industry.
Lowe’s is working toward educating employees in a tight employment market with this new skills education program and other initiatives, such as its augmented and virtual reality experiments. The company earlier this month said that it’s looking to hire more than 53,000 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, significantly more than the 45,000 in-store seasonal hires last year, which came amid corporate layoffs.
The moves come amid high employment in the U.S., rising wages (spurred not just by robust employment but also higher minimum wage requirements in many areas of the country) and a dearth of skilled workers in the construction industry.
Also early in February, Lowe’s announced a one-time bonus up to $1,000 for more than 260,000 eligible full- and part-time hourly U.S. employees across its stores, customer support centers, contact centers and distribution centers. The home improvement retailer said then it was expanding maternity and parental leave as well as adoption assistance. The bonuses, which came a week after the company’s board authorized a new $5 billion stock repurchase program, is on top of the home improvement retailer’s existing store-level bonus policy.
Several U.S. companies, including Walmart, have announced wage boosts and bonuses in recent weeks, and many are at least suggesting that a significant reduction in the corporate tax rate has made it possible. Several others have also announced share buybacks, and, although mention of the new tax bill doesn't make it into the Lowe's press release, many observers and policymakers had predicted that the law would spur the kind of repurchase plan announced by Lowe's.