Lowe’s using pre-apprenticeship program to attract top talent

Discussion
Photo: Lowe's
Feb 26, 2018
Tom Ryan

Lowe’s is introducing Track to the Trades, an internal initiative that will offer financial assistance and counseling to employees who want to pursue trade careers. The move addresses the tight U.S. labor market’s impact on both retail and construction industries.

Under the program, eligible part-time and full-time employees will receive up to $2,500 in upfront tuition funding from Lowe’s to gain a certification and serve as a pre-apprentice in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing or appliance repair careers. Pre-apprenticeships take approximately six to 10 months. Participants will also receive enrollment guidance and a be assigned a field mentor.

Participating employees will not be required to sign retention contracts or pay back tuition should they leave the company. The program is supported by Guild Education, an adult education company.

Track to the Trades will begin on March 1 in Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh and Richmond and will expand nationwide by the end of 2018.

The program comes as the U.S. unemployment rate remains at a 17-year low. Many retailers have been raising wages and providing other perks in part to increase their appeal to job applicants.

Lowe’s also noted that the skilled trade industry is experiencing a rapidly declining workforce. According to the Home Improvement Research Institute, more than 60 percent of skilled trade professionals agree that there is a shortage of labor in the construction industry. Lowe’s analysis of recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed that the U.S. will experience a skilled trades gap of more than a half million jobs across construction related fields by 2026.

“The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need,” said Jennifer L. Weber, Lowe’s chief human resources officer, in a statement. “With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers, allowing us to better meet the demands of customers while creating long-term educational benefits and economic opportunity for our people.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will providing associates with support to pursue trade careers be an effective recruitment and retention tool for Lowe’s? Will the program likely support customer loyalty as well? Could tuition reimbursement and counseling for careers outside retail work for other retailers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"It may not drive retention, however it will certainly drive increased sales and loyalty when these apprentices gain their certifications. "
"Stores like Lowe’s need experts in each department, and this program addresses the national decline in vocational education over the past decades."
"Yes, paying for education has long been a great tool to attract and keep top talent."

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15 Comments on "Lowe’s using pre-apprenticeship program to attract top talent"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

This is an excellent win-win-win proposition for Lowe’s, their employees and the community at large. In addition to the many benefits this program can deliver, customer loyalty and in-store customer experience could also be positively impacted. Imagine engaging a Lowe’s employee in the plumbing department and learning that it’s not only a knowledgeable employee, but an employee who is working toward his/her plumbing apprenticeship. Getting great advice from someone who is actually passionate about the work and intending to pursue it as a career would instill confidence and a create a great in-store experience. I absolutely agree that a program like this could be used in other retail environments.

Art Suriano
Guest

First, let me say this program is brilliant and I commend Lowe’s for implementing it. This program will allow many individuals to learn and master a craft that can be put to great use not just working for Lowe’s but for themselves. Today it seems our entire focus is on the technology, financial and healthcare industries. There is no doubt the need for skilled workers in other fields and this program is a great beginning. Once proven successful, and I am confident it will be, I see other retailers creating similar programs to help them fill the workforce needs they have. This type of employee education could become a new trend for many years to come, and it would be an excellent one.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

As a fan of the trades and of Lowe’s, I love this idea. It will be a strong recruiting incentive for Lowe’s — but it will not drive retention long-term by design.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest

This is a very innovative concept that can be successful on several fronts. For Lowe’s, it will definitely differentiate and attract quality talent. The training program has the added benefit of putting very knowledgeable associates on the floor to assist customers. For the associates there is a powerful advantage of access to upfront tuition funds. I would have to believe that the associates participating in the program (and their families) would be very loyal to Lowe’s and powerful brand advocates.

This definitely looks like a win-win that could have application in other retailers selling technical products and/or requiring installation. The tuition costs may seem high on an individual basis, but overall the program could be a great investment given the very high rate and costs of employee turnover in retail.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Yes, paying for education has long been a great tool to attract and keep top talent. It has been proven to help the employee, the retailer and the customer. The same should be applied to college scholarship funding (like Starbucks, McDonalds, etc.). Lowe’s and others would be wise to leverage this in their promotions, special in-store uniforms, signage, etc. so that their customers are reminded of how they give back to the community by sponsoring their employees in their quest for furthering their education and skills.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

This is an excellent program! It may not drive retention, however it will certainly drive increased sales and loyalty when these apprentices gain their certifications. Kudos to Lowe’s and my 2 cents.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is a great initiative that reflects well on Lowe’s!

It’s commercially savvy too as it will improve the knowledge and skills of the workforce and therefore enhance the customer service Lowe’s can provide.

Sure, some may leave to pursue a career in a trade – but there is a strong chance those people will become loyal Lowe’s customers.

Either way, it’s a win-win for Lowe’s and their employees.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

This is such a smart idea. Stores like Lowe’s need experts in each department, and this program addresses the national decline in vocational education over the past decades. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lowe’s winds up expanding this effort over time.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

“Win-win” is so overused, but Mark Ryski got it right. This is a “win-win-win.” This is an outstanding program for every entity involved. We all know what Jennifer Weber expressed, “The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need.”

Today, the trades are too often denigrated for people “not for college.” That has created a mis-match in terms of the skills needed throughout the country. This is a small step to address it but it will serve Lowe’s and its customers well. Better than any loyalty program is a high-confidence program. Lowe’s ability to offer highly-skilled and knowledgeable people will not just create loyalty but make alternatives disappear.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

It is a good idea no matter how you look at it. people learn, the company gains loyalty and molds a more efficient workforce.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Hats off to Lowe’s for introducing a meaningful and valued program. This should help Lowe’s attract and retain committed and focused employees. Learning not only the actual trade skills but also learning customer interaction and the business aspect of running a business will be invaluable for all the stakeholders — the apprentice, Lowe’s and their customers. Well done! Lowe’s should promote and advertise this heavily as this should give them a nice advantage over Home Depot in the court of public opinion.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 7 months ago

This is a smart move by Lowe’s and a welcome relief from various retailer obsessions with tech wizardry. It’s particularly important for Lowe’s because of their weaker penetration in the sales to contractors and professionals when compared with Home Depot.

How much impact will it have? That will vary associate by associate. But overall, smart move at a good time.

More importantly, now Lowe’s will need to execute on this very good idea. Only if they execute well will it pay out like it should.

John Hyman
Guest
2 years 7 months ago

A terrific opportunity for the store, the employees and potentially the consumer, assuming their training also places an emphasis on delivering a great customer experience. Too bad Macy’s doesn’t have such a program….

Robert DiPietro
Guest

This is a terrific program for Lowe’s! Whether it helps retention is questionable, but it will help provide future customers if they continue in the trades. It may actually help sales in store as well since these associates will be very knowledgeable in the specific trade. There is a true shortage in the trades and society has preached everyone should go to college and get a degree which isn’t helping. Kudos to Lowe’s!

It has applicability for other retailers as well.

Mike Osorio
BrainTrust

This is a brilliant move and will absolutely drive retention along with improved service experiences and beneficial PR for Lowe’s. For the last decade, my former employer DFS Group (the world’s leading luxury travel retailer) has provided high investment individualized training for liquor, wine and beauty associates. In each of these product schools, the graduates achieved an internationally recognized certification which provided them with confidence, significantly improved all selling metrics, drove measurable improvements in customer loyalty, and absolutely drove higher retention as the sales advisors became further engaged with an employer who invested so heavily in their success.

Retailers (and retail consultants) need to move beyond the fear that providing significant training will just increase poaching. It just isn’t true.

Specific to the home improvement retail space, the added long term benefit of the program is feeding passionate, well trained tradespeople into what is likely to be 10-20 years of growth in commercial and government funded infrastructure investment.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"It may not drive retention, however it will certainly drive increased sales and loyalty when these apprentices gain their certifications. "
"Stores like Lowe’s need experts in each department, and this program addresses the national decline in vocational education over the past decades."
"Yes, paying for education has long been a great tool to attract and keep top talent."

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