Teaching Advanced Retail Skills at the Walmart Academy

The retail and related industries employ over 48 million Americans. With such a large footprint, employers must find ways to attract and keep top talent. Developing opportunities for advancement and career pathways has to be a major priority for companies looking to gain a competitive advantage. By engaging with employers and workers to find solutions to these challenges, companies can provide fulfilling careers in retail.

Walmart has taken concrete steps to provide structure and learning for its associates that puts them on a path to success. Enter the Walmart Academy, a dedicated training center that provides two to six weeks of training for frontline supervisors, department managers, and assistant managers.

Much of what associates are taught at the Walmart Academy aligns with the National Fund’s framework for designing quality jobs. Intended for newly promoted or transitioning associates, students of the Academy receive supervisory training, where one of the main lessons they learn is Walmart’s “One Best Way” model. Having a deeper understanding of this model provides a solid foundation of knowledge around expectations at the company, which helps supervisors better communicate the “why” to their frontline workforce. Supervisors also gain a better understanding of the issues their workers face, and this positions them to play a more supportive role in finding solutions.

Recently, some of the National Fund’s retail program grantees toured a local Walmart Academy. The group from SkillUp Washington was very impressed. And that’s because learning at the Walmart Academy is in-depth and the facility is very sophisticated. Participants split their time between the classroom and the sales floor. The classroom is equipped with advanced learning technology, everything from tablets to virtual reality machines where participants play out real-life scenarios. On the sales floor, Walmart Academy students are tasked with solving a range of problems and learn how to handle different situations they might encounter on the job. This powerful combination of classroom and experiential learning provides new supervisors with the practical skills they need to succeed.

One key takeaway for the National Fund grantees was the effectiveness of the model. Because experienced Walmart employees facilitate the instruction, participants feel that they are learning from peers, not from outside consultants or trainers who may not truly understand the Walmart business. Christine Young is program director at the Center for Onboarding and Advancement in Retail. After touring the Walmart Academy, she now plans to implement a virtual learning component in their programming moving forward. As National Fund grantees continue to develop their retail programs, seeing a successful model such as the Walmart Academy will provide a great reference for the future.

Supervisor training isn’t the only way that the Academy approach aligns with the Job Design Framework. The Academy shows trainees what their career path could be and makes clear what opportunities are available in the future. Participants are cross-trained on many areas, so they can be flexible and step up as needed.. All of these are elements of good job design.

However, participation in the Walmart Academy is strictly for mid-level supervisory employees. While this model is effective at providing structured training for employees as an investment in their future, it is limited to just those pre-selected for advancement. Walmart entry level frontline associates participate in a training program called Pathways. Every new associate enters the Pathways program within their first six months.  Through this program they learn essential skills in customer service, merchandising, teamwork and communications. Walmart has trained over 400,000 associates in the Pathways program.

It is especially important for frontline entry-level associates to see visibly the opportunities available for career advancement. These workers should see clearly that their employer values their skills and wants to help them advance in their careers. We hope to see employers looking to institute this type of model will consider expanding the opportunity to all of their frontline workforce.

By developing and instituting the Walmart Academy across the country, Walmart is taking concrete steps to develop a highly effective and impactful training program that provides its workers with the advanced skills they need to succeed in a competitive retail landscape.