Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Tuesday made a surprise announcement: it will create 34,000 jobs this year in the U.S.
The retailer said 10,000 jobs will be created as a result of 59 new, expanded and relocated Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club units, as well as e-commerce. The bulk of the jobs — 24,000 — will be generated by the construction of the stores and the remodeling and improvement of existing U.S. units.
The news came as the National Retail Federation’s Big Show was winding down at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, where the industry’s obsession with jobs was impossible to miss. The holiday season left some of the largest brick-and-mortar retailers badly bruised with store closings and massive layoffs planned. Macy’s said it will cut 10,000 jobs, The Limited shuttered all of its stores, Wet Seal is said to be mulling another bankruptcy and Sears and Kmart are locked in a downward spiral.
Wal-Mart last year closed 269 stores, eliminating 10,000 jobs, and in September, the retailer said it would eliminate 7,000 positions in the U.S. Just last week there were reports that the world’s largest retailer would clip 1,000 jobs at its Bentonville, Ark. headquarters.
The retailer, with 1.5 million associates in the U.S., said it will support about 34,000 jobs through continued expansion and improvement in the company’s store network and e-commerce, while providing specialty training for more than 225,000 frontline associates.
Wal-Mart said that by July, it will open 160 training academies around the country, bringing the number to 200. The network of facilities provide training for frontline hourly supervisors and assistant store managers in the fundamentals of retail, leadership skills and specifics on running individual departments. The retailer said the goal of the training is to help associates succeed in their careers and meet the changing needs of customers.
Making Change at Wal-Mart, a campaign run by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, is critical of the company’s employment practices.
“Today Wal-Mart may be announcing more jobs and more employee training, but tomorrow it could close more stores or slash more back-office jobs,” the organization said. “The income of a full-time Wal-Mart employee working 34 hours per week and making $9 an hour — the starting rate for new hourly employees until they complete Wal-Mart’s training program — would qualify for multiple public assistance programs in most states.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon at the retailer’s Annual Meeting for the Analyst Community in October admitted that physical retail was not a growth industry, saying, “We’re going to focus in the U.S. on accelerating e-commerce growth, including Marketplace.”
Wal-Mart has been rushing to bolster its digital and e-commerce business in the face of Amazon’s assault on its business, especially in the grocery area. Amazon last week announced it will hire 100,000 employees by 2018.
The company in August acquired Jet.com for $3 billion and this month bought Shoebuy, which sells contemporary apparel and footwear brands. Wal-Mart is also aggressively growing walmart.com and Marketplace, whose sku count grew to 24 million last year. The Marketplace now sells everything from $3 private-label T-shirts to $1,399.99 Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dresses.
The retailer on Tuesday said its 2013 commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion in American-made, grown, assembled and sourced products by 2033, will create an estimated one million jobs and highlighted products such as California Innovations’ Ozark Trail supercooler, whose production will be moved from China to Atlanta, creating 250 jobs; Edgewell Personal Care, bringing production from Canada to Dover, Del., creating 272 jobs, and Renfro Corp., creating 442 jobs through a deal to produce athletic socks in Fort Payne, Ala.
Also on Tuesday, the Wal-Mart Foundation, in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced the third and final round of grants through the U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund to advance sustainability and innovation in textile manufacturing, which has proven to be one of the most challenging industries to reshore to the U.S. The fund has awarded $10 million in grants since 2014.
Recipients announced Tuesday include, Washington State University, to establish a sustainable process to recycle cotton waste by fiber regeneration using a wet spinning technique; North Carolina State University, to create a universal and sustainable commercial textile dyeing method that doesn’t use salt or alkali or produce effluent, and produces more than 95 percent savings of both energy and water; Clemson University, for development of sustainable polyester fibers that achieve a high level of water and oil repellency; Oregon State University, to develop a sustainable, cost-effective dyeing and printing of smart fabrics process; Texas Tech University, to support research on textile manufacturing, dyeing efficiency and specialty finishes, and University of Massachusetts at Lowell, to develop magnetic dyeing technology to address the technical and environmental issues of dyeing techniques.