Walmart expands associate-to-driver program for private fleet

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 8,074 views 

Walmart has described itself as a company that has turned ambition into opportunity throughout its history.

The latest example of that philosophy is a pilot program for existing workers to become truck drivers for the company’s enormous private fleet.

In late 2021, Walmart launched a 12-week training program for workers in other parts of the company to become certified truck drivers. In mid-March, the initial cohort of 17 students graduated with their commercial driver’s license (CDL) — a process that typically costs around $4,500 — and became full-fledged Walmart truck drivers.

Previously, the workers worked in supply chain positions in Dallas and Dover, Del.

Walmart is also investing in higher salaries for its drivers. With the raises in place, Walmart drivers can now make up to $110,000 in their first year with the company, potentially making even more down the road, based on tenure and location.

Citing data from Glassdoor, an online platform for reviewing companies and job postings, Walmart says the average starting salary for a long-haul truck driver is $56,591 annually.

Ryan McDaniel is vice president of Walmart’s private fleet, focusing on the eastern half of the U.S.  He said the wage investments and associate-to-driver training program aren’t a reaction to finding enough qualified truck drivers. He said the company hired more than 4,000 drivers in 2021 for its private trucking company and anticipated the retailer would exceed that number this year.

“We’re doing it to maintain a competitive advantage in the industry and keep up with the growth of our business,” he said in a recent interview. “And meanwhile, it’s exciting for our associates to have a new career path that exists within the company.”

Walmart started hiring truck drivers in 1971, nine years after opening its first store in Rogers and one year after building its first combined general office and distribution center at the corner of Eighth Street and U.S. Highway 71 (Walton Boulevard) in Bentonville.

Walmart’s private trucking fleet today is one of the largest in the country, with approximately 12,000 drivers. McDaniel said the size is an “amazing” competitive advantage, and the transportation division’s legacy within the company is well-regarded. According to the Walmart Museum, two of the company’s five CEOs had their start in transportation and logistics: Lee Scott and Mike Duke.

McDaniel said the training program includes four weeks focusing on the CDL component before transitioning into an eight-week curriculum and practical training. At the end of the classroom portion of the training, drivers graduate with their CDL through Walmart’s Live Better U program, months of real-world experience under trained instructors, and a dedicated mentor to help them smoothly transition into their new role.

McDaniel said the next cohort would begin another 12-week training program soon. It will likely be limited to the same areas for supply chain workers in Texas and Delaware. Still, the objective is to expand the career pathway to any interested store workers.

“Our vision is any Walmart U.S. associate who desires to be a professional Walmart private fleet driver would have the opportunity,” McDaniel said. “At this point, we are in the program’s initial phase and have focused on supply chain associates in the two areas [Texas and Delaware] where we’re offering the training.

“In the future, as we get more experience under our belt and refine the program, we intend to expand the program.”

Walmart typically requires new fleet drivers to have a minimum of 30 months of experience working in a full-time Class A tractor/trailer driving position in the previous four years. McDaniel said the company would waive the requirement for the associate-to-driver program, but that doesn’t mean it’s a shortcut.

“The associates joining this program go through the same stringent testing and requirements around safety,” he said. “They have to demonstrate the same skill set as any other driver we hire externally.”