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[13 comments]

Walmart takes entry-level worker training outside its stores

April 30, 2014

Walmart is taking the training of new cart pushers, cashiers, stock and backroom clerks out of stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth market and moving it to the company's new Talent Center in Irving, TX.

The new facility will be responsible for training entry-level workers for 120 stores in the region. Walmart is looking to open more stores in the area, which increases the need for properly trained workers.

"In Dallas, we have a unique opportunity to impact a lot of stores with consistent hiring and training and improve the process," Dacona Smith, vice president for Walmart's North Texas region, told The Dallas Morning News.

A criticism of retailer employers has long been that the depth and quality of training programs varies widely by location. With its new Talent Center, Walmart is focused on developing consistency and helping new employees not only understand the full details of their jobs, but also how it affects store performance overall.

Proper training, as pointed out in numerous discussions on RetailWire over the years, is also considered to be key to employee retention, a major bottom line issue for Walmart and many others operating in the retail space.

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:WMT] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

How do you expect entry-level employee performance to be affected by Walmart's centralizing training? Will it help Walmart cut down on employee turnover?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How effective do you think Walmart's Talent Center will be in reducing employee turnover in its stores?

Comments:

Centralizing training, in and of itself, is no panacea. If the training is better than what they would get at the stores, then that will be a benefit. I'd love to know how the employees get to the training center. While Irving is relatively central to the DFW metroplex, it can take forever to get there by public transit.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Centralized training is one way to ensure that entry-level employees get the same exposure to expectations, job duties, etc. This also affords the trainees an opportunity to learn in an environment that was designed specifically to train rather than one designed to sell to the public.

Turnover is impacted by a wide range of factors, with training being one. The impact that this change in Walmart's training has should be positive, the extent of which will only be known once it has been in place for some time.

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Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions, LLC

As (Canadian philosopher) Marshall McLuhan was famous for saying: "The medium is the message." There are obvious benefits to this approach - consistency of message, quality of instruction and so on. But all that is a minor plus.

It's the idea and experience of going to the "Talent Center" that will really make the difference to the employees rather than calling being put right to work in a store "training." I remember a "Possibility Thinking Workshop" I did for line employees, and was surprised to discover that many had never experienced going offsite to a hotel for an educational session like that. After all, that kind of treatment is reserved for the suits! As I came in to that room that morning about a dozen of them were looking at the table of coffee, bagels and fruit. They turned to me and asked "Are we allowed to have that?" (Executives would have complained there were no bacon and eggs.)

And calling it a "Talent Center" is brilliant because it recognizes that people come with their own innate gifts and talents. If it were a "Training Center" the implication is "You bring nothing so we have to give you something to make you useful to us."

Good stuff Walmart!

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

A talent center is a great idea on many levels (even with some inherent challenges). Consistent training, a real "perk" for staff attending, and a chance to do a great job of orientating the employees to the company. What we know (and most know too) is that if you do a great and comprehensive orientation, then turnover rates fall rapidly. Staff need to know/feel that can be successful on the floor right away and orientation plays a big part in that.

The challenges: you could never really have enough talent centers to meet the needs of such a wide spread retailer, nor can you do enough sessions to meet the never ending needs of the stores meaning staff will be on the floor for a while before they can get to a session. classroom training is great ... but it's the reinforcement of the learning at store level that's most important.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

Walmart U - not an uncommon practice in many companies to have a central training facility to ensure the message is consistent and clear to help with execution and reduce turnover. The puzzling thing to me is whether the the travel cost for seemingly entry level position training outweighs the reduction in turnover cost.

If this is a significant market entry where there are not many "sister" stores, this can also be a logistical necessity.

I guess we will see if they open other training locations.

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Robert DiPietro, GVP Product Strategy & Business Development, Affinion Group

Ian's perspective on this is right on target in my book.

We currently work with a very large CPG manufacturer who has taken a similar approach to talent development. For their field sales teams -- including the retail merchandising force -- they built dedicated facilities and developed dedicated programming.

I've never seen a sales team react positively to having their people yanked out of the field for an entire week before. And I've never seen managers respond positively to coming into the center themselves and doing the same training their people are doing.

Simply amazing what a difference it makes in people's attitudes when they see meaningful commitment made to help them be better.

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Ben Ball, Senior Vice President, Dechert-Hampe

Live, in-store training creates disappointment among the ranks of experienced employees, new hires and the customer. This is and will remain a constant problem for those retailers not having the willingness to put in the investment dollars for off-site training.

The problem of employee turnover has always been the reason this type of program is accused of failure and abandoned. In fact, the employee training program and company turnover have little in common after the initial 90 days of employment is over.

Employee turnover is more the responsibility of store management practices, company promotion practices and employee payroll and benefits. The embedded denial of these reasons owning the responsibilities of turnover is somehow only seen by the ones that leave on their own and are never even discussed in earnest by the survivors.

Another setback to the training programs in place is the fact that renewal programs for the current employees are almost never deemed necessary. With all of the policy, procedure and technology changes that take place yearly, I have always been amazed at this void in commitment to the employee base.

'gjarnoldjr'

Walmart has taken a leadership role in decentralizing functions when bringing additional focus could make all the difference. Like @walmartlabs that came before, Walmart's training center has the potential to transcend training and serve as an incubator for new ideas and store-level processes. And just as with @walmartlabs, the benefits will extend beyond Walmart as others retailers rise to the occasion and as trained associates migrate to other retailers. In the meantime, the effort should enhance Walmart's employee retention and leadership development.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

The old statement goes, why train them they are going to leave? But it would be worse to not train them and have them stay.

This sure is a move in the right direction. I wonder what has taken them so long.
Look at the benefits if done right:

  1. Standardized hiring process with people who are trained and focused on making sure the best potential employees are hired.
  2. Ability to impact the way the new employee feels about the company and the job.
  3. Making sure new employees understand not only what to do and how to do their job but maybe more importantly why their job is important in the first place.

If done right, this will be a low-cost investment with a major ROI.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

It's not only important for employees to know how to perform tasks, it's equally important that they know how and why what they do impacts the overall store performance. Most employees want to know that they are making a positive contribution, even if their tasks are perceived as menial. If Walmart can successfully motivate entry-level workers with helping them to understand that they play a vital role in the overall store performance, then that may lead to better retention. However, individual store managers need to follow through with making their employees feel valued.

'RetailRetell'

"Every part of a Walmart store that a new employee will encounter has been replicated, from the break room..." of course that's something they'll never encounter on the job. OK, OK, I'll play nice, but I'm a little unclear on the details of this, such as exactly how long does the intense training regimen of a cart pusher last, or how big is the region? If it's several thousand square miles - and I'm assuming it is - who's going to be paying the travel costs (or lodging costs if distances are THAT far)? I've more than a little fear this is (yet another) way for WM to pass on its costs to someone else...in this case the (prospective) employees.

'notcom'

Walmart's centralized training program should help entry-level performance temporarily and that will be appreciated by many customers. It might even improve Walmart's ROI. But one still doubts that it affect employee turnover much.

Being a better trained new employee working at entry-level pay in the "inspiring environment" of Walmart stores, the "Training Center" doesn't strike me as being a "innovation incubator." Hopefully I am wrong. But among its plus possibilities, this program could also give the new better-prepared employees more wherewithal for finding a better job.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

Training and development is a theme that all associates are seeking within the jobs. This is a sharp move on Walmart's part.

Having owned quick service restaurants, I know that we reduced employee turnover from an industry average of 300% per year to 50% per year -- that's over 28 restaurants. Training was instrumental in employee retention. That added retention then impacted quality, speed, and associate attitude. They were made to understand they were part of something bigger.

In the process, store managers took great pride in their role in teaching, leading, and motivating their crew.

Walmart is on the right track.

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Roger Saunders, Managing Director, Prosper Business Development

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