Walmart is often beaten up in the media for being “big business” making profits on the back of its hourly workforce, but the retail giant is working hard to change that perception with another expansion to its Live Better U education benefit.
On Tuesday (June 4), Walmart announced a new program offering in-demand technology degrees and certificates for its employees, including high school students at a cost of $1 per day.
This comes on the heels of a larger program when Live Better U was launched a year ago as an entry-level education program providing employees access to college degrees for a cost of $1 per day. This program was done in partnership with Guild Education working with several colleges throughout the country.
In March, Walmart said more than 4,500 of its employees from all 50 states had already enrolled in at least one of the programs. More than 3,000 were seeking degrees from the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University. In all there are now six nonprofit universities taking part in the Live Better U program. The other participants are Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University, Walmart noted.
Walmart said the enhancements to the program are designed to help remove barriers such as time, cost, and earning a degree in a changing economy that too often keeps adult learners from pursuing higher education degrees and certificates.
The pipeline for talent is tight in retail and other areas such as technology will continue to fuel the transformation of the industry. Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran has been a big advocate for continued training of employees during his three-year tenure. He said equipping the workforce with the right tools has been central to the company’s improved financial performance in the past couple of years.
“Walmart values learning in all forms, and we are committed to creating a workforce of lifelong learners and instilling in them excitement for retail and a passion for serving customers. Access to higher education is one way to grow your career. So, in addition to providing people with an entry to the workforce and access to our on-the-job training I’m proud Walmart also offers our associate’s programs like Live Better U to help them achieve their educational goals,” Foran noted in a company release.
The latest expansion of the program aims to help high school students avoid the pitfalls of mounting college debt while also providing the retailer with a steady stream of talent equipped to steer the company into the future. Walmart said the cost barrier of higher education is too high for many today as student loan debt is nearly $1.5 trillion. At the same time, fewer teens are entering the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates by 2024 just 26% of teens will have a job.
Walmart said its new program provides students end-to-end workforce solutions, from access to jobs to building foundational soft skills and more advanced skills through work-based training, and an opportunity to earn a debt-free college degree. Along with other eligible Walmart employees, high school students will now have access to the following:
• Job flexibility (work the same days and shifts for up to 13 weeks)
• Free ACT and SAT prep
• Up to seven hours of free college credit through Live Better U’s College Start program
• A debt-free college degree through Live Better U (upon high school completion) in the fields of technology, business or supply chain management at six nonprofit universities.
The new technology track offers 14 degrees and certificates such as cybersecurity, computer science, computer and network security as well as computing technology. The business track offers degrees in supply chain and finance. Walmart said in the coming months it will add more degrees and certificates in additional fields that support growing the retail business and demand in the overall U.S. workforce.
“Since launching with Guild a year ago, thousands of Walmart associates have now headed back to school debt-free, collectively saving tens of millions of dollars in student debt,” said Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education. “As the largest employer in the nation, Walmart’s education program is creating unparalleled access for millions of Americans to gain a meaningful education and economic mobility.”
Several of Walmart’s top executives started their careers at a very young age and continued working their way through college while also growing their careers at Walmart and in retail. They include CEO Doug McMillon, Sam’s Club CEO John Furner and Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran, who each began working in retail just out of high school before getting their formal higher education alongside the on-the-job training.