Walmart looks to win talent war with new education benefit

Photo: Walmart
May 31, 2018

With unemployment in the U.S. at a 17-year-low, retailers and other employers are finding it difficult to fill open positions. Retail employers are offering higher wages, career advancement opportunities and an expanding list of benefits to attract and retain talented people. The latest case in point is Walmart and a new educational benefit that enables associates to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in business or supply chain management.

The program, in partnership with Guild Education, an education benefits platform, is being billed by Walmart as a sign of its commitment to train and educate its workforce to advance their careers, whether that be with the retailer or somewhere else. Degree programs are offered through Bellevue University, Brandman University and the University of Florida. The schools were selected for their focus on helping adult learners earn their degrees.

Associates working in the U.S. for Walmart and Sam’s Club are eligible for the program. Walmart will subsidize the associates’ costs for pursuing degrees beyond financial aid. Employees will pay the equivalent of $1 a day towards their own education. The retailer expects 68,000 employees will take part in the program over five years, according to CNN.

“Investing in the personal and professional success of our associates is vital to Walmart’s future success,” said Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., in a statement. “We know training and learning opportunities empower associates to deliver for customers while growing and advancing in their careers.”

Associates can also earn credit towards their degrees while going through paid training offered by the company through the Walmart Academies program. Prior college credits and work experience may also be applied for Walmart associates pursuing a degree.

Walmart’s new program is one of many now being offered by chains, including Home Depot, McDonald’s, Lowe’s and Starbucks, that help workers advance their careers.

“In combination with increased pay, training, and improved career opportunities, Walmart is recognizing the positive impact across the board of a stable workforce, and increases the pressure on other companies inside and outside of retail as this heats up the competition for quality employees,” Charlie O’Shea, Moody’s lead retail analyst, wrote in an email to RetailWire. “This new benefit escalates the ongoing ‘arms race’ for employees in retail.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What will Walmart’s new educational benefit do for the company’s employee recruitment and retention efforts? How do you see retailers using educational benefits to their benefit in the years ahead?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Kudos to Walmart for this and, in particular, the retail-specific focus of supply chain management."
"It’d be ideal for retailers to raise wages and for higher education to not be so financially impossible in the first place..."
"As Scott Galloway says, “zig as Amazon zags.” Amazon can’t compete with having a skilled sales and service folks on a sales floor."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Walmart looks to win talent war with new education benefit"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel

In our era of low unemployment, retailers are having well-documented problems recruiting hourly employees. This is a smart move because it offers a real incentive for “strivers” entering the workforce to pick Walmart instead of its competitors — or to pick retailing over another career.

There are more benefits to Walmart — it fills a pipeline of potential future managers in its own thousands of stores, and it gains a well-deserved positive PR boost by offering the benefit in the first place.

Neil Saunders

The labor market is much tighter than it once was. Increasing pay is a solution, but since almost any company can offer that, it’s not a strong differentiator. As such, retailers are having to get creative about the benefits they offer employees. Helping improve skills and education is a smart way of doing this as it benefits both employee and employer. I expect to see more of this sort of thing across the retail sector in the coming years.

Lee Kent

Kudos to Walmart for this and, in particular, the retail-specific focus of supply chain management. It takes the job opportunity to another level that says a career in retail can go beyond being a sales associate. I have always been an advocate of colleges and universities offering retail-focused curriculum and this is an added benefit. It is a win-win for all involved. For my 2 cents.

Gene Detroyer

I believe it is more than just a matter of recruitment. The skills needed in tomorrow’s world (and I mean “tomorrow,” not the next decade) are increasing rapidly. As all industry, even retail, moves away from sweat activity to digital activity, the need for employees to understand and cope with new job demands is ever increasing.

Walmart specifically has raised the secondary education levels in Bentonville and surrounding communities to rank among the top in the country, while Arkansas as a state remains among the lowest in education. Walmart has recognized that without an educated community, they can not fill their labor needs in Bentonville nor attract those employees from other parts of the country.

Walmart follows a trend started by Starbucks. Sadly, in the U.S., companies recognize the need for higher education in a country that values it little.

Bob Phibbs

This move from Walmart shows that retailers are valuing their employees more and more. Paying for college education is an increasingly offered perk — Starbucks provides something similar to their employees. Most importantly, subsidizing college tuition gives Walmart a leg up over Amazon and some of their other competitors. Walmart is recognizing that they can’t recruit employees unless they fix their image of being a low-wage, no opportunity company. When employees are engaged with and loyal to the company, they’ll ultimately provide a better experience to the customer.

Dan Raftery

This is a two-stage program, as those retailers who have been doing it for a while know. Stage 1 is all we are hearing about in this release. The results should be an uptick in the number of college students attracted to working at Walmart. Probably a good thing.
Stage 2 is retention. Without a.) some form of commitment requirement or b.) a big salary and clear management career path, I think a very small percentage of participants will stay on. Pretty sure b.) is not in the cards.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

It should make a difference. Everyone wins — associates and Walmart. In addition to the noted labor shortages, the supply chain management focus is terrific. Between the rise of online and the shortage of truck drivers, supply chain management will become an even more sought after talent. Plus the model of learning while working, focusing on adult students, represents the new learning paradigm. The long-standing approach to education and work, featuring 12 to 16 years of formal education, followed by 40+ years of work, is no longer relevant in today’s changing world. Life-long learning is the future and Walmart appears poised to take advantage of this trend.

Mel Kleiman

Great move in the right direction, for a number of reasons:

  1. The cost of reduced turnover will more than pay for the program;
  2. Two of the top benefits employees are looking for are growth and opportunity. This provides both of them;
  3. It provides great PR and is free positive advertising for the chain.
Ray Riley

As Scott Galloway says, “zig as Amazon zags.” Amazon can’t compete with having a skilled sales and service folks on a sales floor. This is an outstanding initiative to attract, develop, and retain team members. Walmart deserves a lot of credit for the emphasis on continuing education and investing in their front-line, especially with the recent Strivr Virtual Reality implementation.

Shep Hyken

Want an education? Work at Walmart. Great benefit that will keep good employees long term. At a time when retailers struggle to keep good people, this could be exactly what is needed. While this isn’t a new concept, you’ll see more and more employers getting creative with benefits (beyond education) to keep their best employees.

Jennifer McDermott

This is a wonderful initiative. Great from a business perspective — reduced turnover, happier/more productive employees and lots of positive PR — but also with the benefit available to approximately 1.4 million Walmart employees, this could have a halo effect on the economy. Student debt is a $1.3 trillion crisis. With Walmart and hopefully other employers following suit to bear some of the burden, this could decrease dramatically.

Harley Feldman

Walmart’s new educational benefits will benefit the company through having better trained and happier and more dedicated employees. Also, instead of recruiting from the outside, Walmart will already have many of the skills in house to grow. With the fast changing retail climate and use of technology, all retailers should see an advantage in educating their employees. These educated employees should be trained in the future of retailing from how to deal with customers to the use of the latest technology used by the retailer to manage and grow its business.

Joanna Rutter
4 years 2 months ago

It’d be ideal for retailers to raise wages and for higher education to not be so financially impossible in the first place, but until then, of course this is a smart incentive and retention program. I’d love to see an academic study conducted on whether this type of incentive improves retention and productivity — my guess is “of course it would!” but the official numbers would be fascinating.

"Kudos to Walmart for this and, in particular, the retail-specific focus of supply chain management."
"It’d be ideal for retailers to raise wages and for higher education to not be so financially impossible in the first place..."
"As Scott Galloway says, “zig as Amazon zags.” Amazon can’t compete with having a skilled sales and service folks on a sales floor."

Take Our Instant Poll

What grade do you give for Walmart’s new college degree benefit?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...