business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a story about how “Walmart has put more than 150,000 of its store supervisors and department managers” through what it calls Walmart Academy, “which, over several weeks, teaches skills like merchandising and how to motivate employees.”

Here’s how the story frames what Walmart is trying to do, and why:

“American companies spend about $170 billion a year on formal employee training, but most of that instruction focuses on workers with college degrees.
Walmart has spent $2.7 billion on training and raising wages for 1.2 million of its store workers over the past two years — an investment that reflects the pressures the company faces in the retail industry.

“Fighting Amazon for sales, Walmart is trying to make its stores more pleasant places to shop. That requires a well-trained work force with a sense of purpose and self-worth, qualities that can be difficult to nurture in lower-wage workers.”

What’s interesting about the Times is that it looks at Walmart’s training efforts in the context of a changing American landscape, in which certain kinds of retailers are facing extinction and certain kinds of communities - those that depended on a robust manufacturing component to support its middle class - are fighting to survive. The question the story asks is whether, despite all the money Walmart is spending and all the people it is training, whether the efforts will add up to anything more than Walmart just running stores that are more competitive with Amazon.

Walmart certainly wants to be seen as doing more than just that: “Walmart was once considered to be a pariah of rural America, vilified by some — especially people who shopped elsewhere — for wiping out local businesses by selling cheap goods made in China,” the story says. “Now, Walmart is rebranding itself as a company focused on the needs of its workers and the fate of small towns and hardscrabble cities.”

It is an insightful piece of writing, and you can read it here.
KC's View: