Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are giving $4 million in grants to three organizations working to increase workforce training, according to a company press release. Walmart is also expanding its education benefit, announced in May, to U.S. e-commerce associates.
The funding, announced Wednesday, is part of the company's five-year Retail Opportunity Initiative, which is a $100 million effort to improve training programs in retail and adjacent sectors. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have so far funded more than $80 million in related grants
The funding is broken up in the following ways: $2.4 million will go to the Foundation for California Community Colleges to launch an online community college to serve adult learners; $1 million to edX will help launch a series of courses in new "MicroBachelors" programs; and $250,000 will help Code for America "explore the role government technology systems can play in improving access to quality jobs in the digital age, and identify opportunities where technology can improve outcomes for job seekers."
Retail jobs are much different than they were 10 years ago. For one, knowledge of digital skills and technology, as well as product expertise, are increasingly in demand. But turnover in the industry is a perennial problem, historically because of a lack of livable wages, benefits and opportunity for upward mobility. Over the last few years, though, more major retailers have ramped up efforts to retain and promote store associates. That's come in the form of hourly wage increases — minimum hourly pay this year rose at Walmart to $11, Target to $12 and Amazon to $15 — as well as educational training programs like the kind Walmart is investing in.
About 8% of the workforce is made up of people actively working full time while being formally enrolled in some kind of postsecondary education or training, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, cited in Walmart's press release. But, many working adults face costly barriers to career advancement.
"Through work with organizations like the Foundation for California Community Colleges, Code for America and edX.org, we can help make training and education more accessible and affordable for working adults so they advance their careers," Julie Gehrki, vice president of philanthropy at Walmart, said in a statement. While these grants won't go toward improving training and education for current Walmart employees it's a move to train the workforce of the future.
Earlier this year, the company also rolled out an education benefit for full-time, part-time and salaried U.S. Walmart associates. Unlike typical tuition reimbursement programs offered through corporations, associates in this new program would only pay out of pocket $1 a day until the completion of their degree while Walmart subsidizes the cost of tuition, books and fees beyond financial aid. Those that have graduated from or are still enrolled in the Walmart Academy program (which launched in 2016) could receive between four and 19 college credits, depending on the degree they are pursuing. The company anticipates 68,000 Walmart employees will enroll in the program over the next five years.