Some 62 graduates enjoyed a traditional cap-and-gown ceremony, as Walmart celebrated the advancement of its first “Walmart Academy” training program at its North Bergen, New Jersey Walmart Supercenter, the Record reports.
More than 52,000 associates have graduated from the new "academies" since the first opened in 2016, according to a company blog post. Walmart has plans for 200 such academies, where front-line hourly supervisors, department managers and assistant managers receive two to six weeks of training, to be running nationwide by the end of the year. The North Bergen location is the 145th one and trains workers from 30 stores in the northern New Jersey-New York area, the Record said.
The programs instill core retail skills as well as “softer skills” like teamwork, customer service and punctuality, and Walmart recently revamped its training to speed up opportunities for advancement within the company, a spokesperson told Retail Dive earlier this year.
Walmart has had to boost its hourly compensation to ensure that it can find and keep good workers in an economy with rising employment, compete with rivals that pay better wages, and meet new rising minimum wage requirements in several states and cities nationwide. But, in part through these new academies, it's also revamping training programs to better prepare workers and speed up their advancement opportunities.
Besides raising its starting hourly minimum wage to $9 (first announced two years ago), Walmart is shortening the training time it takes for workers to increase their wage to $10 per hour from six months to three. (Workers in areas where the minimum wage is $10 or more do not see an automatic bump after completing their initial training, Walmart spokesperson Blake Jackson told Retail Dive in January.)
Moving forward, Walmart will award most store workers a 2% pay raise on a certain day, rather than linking raises to performance reviews conducted on their hiring anniversary. Those who’ve maxed out the pay rate their position allows will get a bonus payment equal to 2% of their annual earnings, Jackson told Retail Dive. Disconnecting raises from performance is easing workers’ worries about their compensation and helping Walmart shift the emphasis in reviews to improving skills and customer service, he explained.
The policy to give lump-sum bonuses to longer-term employees is an apparent answer to backlash among workers who were aggrieved that newer employees were awarded higher rates upon their arrival. Judith McKenna, chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., held a series of “listening sessions” in 59 stores in all 50 states, which led to changes, Jackson said.
Adding up staff in stores and in its corporate offices, Walmart employs some 1.5 million workers in the U.S., a spokesperson told Retail Dive earlier this year. The wage increases and extensive training programs haven’t spared the retail giant ongoing criticism of its labor practices; some workers have complained that some stores are cutting back hours to avoid overtime pay. Earlier this year, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Walmart, alleging the retail giant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act when one of its stores fired a longtime employee with Down’s Syndrome. And despite the wage boost, some economists say that even the higher minimums in many areas remain poverty-level wages.