Walmart introduces a new job training program and bonuses for associates

Walmart said on Wednesday It will offer new training programs and certifications to fill in-demand positions across the company, such as HVAC technicians, opticians and software engineers.

The big-box retailer said it will offer store employees another reason to stick around: a bonus of up to $1,000 per year.

Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, has been investing in its stores and its workforce as it tries to hold on to the title of the nation's largest retailer. Amazon hot on the heels. The retail giant is aiming to maintain market share, especially in the grocery section, during a period of high inflation.

The company announced store managers at the beginning of this year could earn more than $400,000 a year, including bonuses, as it began offering $20,000 in stock grants in April. Walmart also launched a $9 billion project to upgrade and modernize more than 1,400 of its stores, representing more than a quarter of the total number of Walmart stores nationwide.

The company said the average hourly wage is nearly $18, an increase of about 30% over the past five years. Starting pay in retail stores ranges from $14 to $19 depending on location. Walmart raised its minimum wage in January 2023.

Yet Walmart, which reported total sales of about $648 billion last year and has a market value of nearly $537 billion, continues to face criticism over its wages. According to the company's 2024 proxy report, the company's total annual compensation for the average employee was $27,642 in the most recent fiscal year. That's not too bad for a family of four below the poverty line of $31,200This was reported by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

That compares with the average compensation of $26,696 at Target and $36,274 at Amazon, according to those companies' most recent proxy reports. These calculations include part-time and full-time workers.

Walmart's new programs provide employees with more opportunities to advance to higher-paying jobs. The company is piloting a six-month pilot program in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with 100 store and warehouse associates who want to work in skilled trades such as facilities maintenance, refrigeration and HVAC technicians. These skilled trade jobs pay between $19 and $45 per hour, says Lo Stomski, the company's chief talent officer.

The initiative is inspired by a similar program for another in-demand position: truck drivers. According to the company, the associate-to-driver program has brought in more than 500 new drivers since its launch in spring 2022.

Employees who participate in the programs do not have to continue working for Walmart, but Stomski said they will be needed as Walmart adds automation and robotics to its warehouses and online fulfillment centers.

Walmart said Wednesday it has also increased the number of skills certificates it offers to more than 50 from five in 2020. The certifications can help employees advance to paid or managerial positions in stores, clubs and supply chain facilities. On average, employees receive the certificates within four months, according to Stomski.

This week's announcement coincides with two of Walmart's biggest events. The shareholders' meeting will take place virtually on Wednesday. On Friday, Walmart in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, will host its annual employee celebration, a combination pep rally and employee rewards program that draws thousands of employees from around the world and features surprise celebrity appearances and musical performances.

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