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Walmart rolls out new training programs for skilled trades as it tries to fill high-demand roles

Walmart on Wednesday said it will offer new training programs and certifications to fill high-demand roles across its business, such as HVAC technicians, opticians and software engineers.

The big-box retailer said it will also offer another reason for hourly store workers 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 hang on to the title of the nation’s top retailer, with Amazon hot on its heels. The retail giant aims to retain market share gains, particularly in the grocery department, during a period of high inflation.

Early this year, the company announced that store managers could earn more than $400,000 a year, including bonuses, as it began offering $20,000 of stock grants in April. Walmart also kicked off a $9 billion project to upgrade and modernize more than 1,400 of its stores, representing more than a quarter of the total Walmart stores across the country.

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

Yet Walmart, which reported about $648 billion in total revenue last year and has a market value of nearly $537 billion, still faces criticism for its wages. The company’s total annual compensation for the median employee was $27,642 in the most recent fiscal year, according to the company’s 2024 proxy report. For a family of four people, that falls below the poverty line of $31,200, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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

Walmart’s new programs give employees more ways to move into higher-paying jobs. The company is piloting a six-month training program in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with 100 store and warehouse associates who want to work in skilled trades, such as technician roles for facilities maintenance, refrigeration and HVAC. Those skilled trade jobs pay between $19 and $45 per hour, said Lo Stomski, the company’s chief talent officer.

The initiative was inspired by a similar program for another high-demand role: truck drivers. The associate-to-driver program has produced more than 500 new drivers since launching in spring 2022, according to the company.

Workers who participate in the programs are not required to keep working for Walmart, but Stomski said they will be needed as Walmart adds automation and robotics across its warehouses and online fulfillment centers.

Walmart said Wednesday that it’s also increased the number of skills certificates it offers to more than 50, up from five in 2020. The certifications can help employees move into salaried or leadership positions in stores, clubs and supply chain facilities. On average, employees receive the certificates in four months, Stomski said.

This week’s announcement coincides with two of Walmart’s major events. Its shareholder meeting will be held virtually on Wednesday. On Friday in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, Walmart will throw its annual associates celebration, a combination of a pep rally and an employee awards program that draws thousands of workers from across the globe and features surprise celebrity appearances and musical performances.

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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