Wal-Mart is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to improving customer service: The retail giant is opening training academies inside or near 200 of its U.S. stores.
The retailer will use the academies to train front-line hourly supervisors and department managers. The program will involve classroom instruction as well as training on the sales floor. The first week of the two-week program will cover retail basics, while the second will offer hands-on sales floor training.
“Employees will gain the knowledge and skills to run a specific department,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. “We’re going to have a dedicated training staff at all the facilities.”
The first academy bowed in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area on Friday and will be followed by two training centers in Arkansas. The company is opening academies in locales that can service about a dozen stores. Wal-Mart expects all 200 academies to be operational by 2017. “We’ll put more than 140,000 folks through the training programs annually,” the spokesman said.
The new training replaces Wal-Mart’s previous method where a worker would shadow a designated employee in a store. Completing a computer-based training module, which included online simulations of the store experience, was also required.
Wal-Mart’s service has long been viewed as lacking. One reason is simply its vast size and the difficulty of training so many employees — it is the largest private employer in the world with more than 2.2 million workers. The retailer’s low wages were also seen as a deterrent to motivating workers.
As Wal-Mart and other retailers fight for consumers with online behemoth Amazon, store service becomes critical; poor service means customers won’t be motivated to enter a store. “To grow and succeed, our associates, and Wal-Mart as a company, will require new skills and the ability to meet needs of shoppers,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said.
The training academies will be located across the U.S. “They’ll provide consistent, purposeful training,” the spokesman said. “Leadership skills will be part of the training for some. Also, employees will better understand the career paths available to them in the stores. [The training academies] will help create a better, more consistent customer experience, increased management retention, and a pipeline of talent for our company.”
After years of being criticized for its low wages, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer last year said it would raise wages for more than 1.2 million U.S. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club associates and some managers. The first phase of the increase went into effect in April when Wal-Mart increased its starting rate to $9 an hour for associates and raised associates earning below that level to $9.
The second phase kicked in last month, when the average hourly rate for full-time employees rose to $13.38, and the average part-time hourly rate became $10.58.
The wage increases, which were part of Wal-Mart’s two-year, $2.7 billion investment in its workers, were partly responsible for the company’s forecast that earnings will fall every year until 2019, including a 6 percent to 12 percent drop in 2017.
“Wal-Mart has a history of saying one thing to the public and doing the opposite in stores,” said a spokeswoman for Making Change at Wal-Mart, which is supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. “Just ask any worker who had their hours cut or store closed as Wal-Mart was touting its so-called investment in employees.
“Wal-Mart has a long way to go before it can be considered a responsible employer,” the Making Change spokeswoman said. “Workers need better wages, better schedules and better treatment at the workplace. Better training would be on that list as well. However, unless Wal-Mart actually keeps its promises, it will continue to face the same problems that have plagued it for some time now.”