Walmart expands debt-free education benefit to include skilled trades

Walmart (WMT) is expanding its educational benefits program to prepare its workforce for “future-proof and future-focused roles” through skilled trade training.

In the summer of 2018, the big-box retailer began offering its 1.5 million U.S. associates debt-free college, as part of its $1-a-day college tuition perk, called “Live Better U.” The nascent program — which used to kick in after 90 days, but is now available on day one — has already been a huge hit with Walmart’s workers.

“While the economy and our company will continue to be technology-driven, we also recognized that the U.S. suffers from a skilled trades talent gap,” said Drew Holler, SVP of People at Walmart.

The country’s largest private employer teamed up with Penn Foster, a for-profit online career school, to offer its associates the opportunity to earn certificates across trades, including facilities and industrial maintenance, HVAC/refrigeration, electrical, plumbing, and construction.

The retailer has also pledged a commitment to placing associates who complete their certification in entry-level roles at the company, or within its contractor network, “to gain hands-on experience.”

In addition to skilled trades, Walmart is expanding its digital skills educational offering, adding 19 certificates for both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The new digital certificates cut across ways of working, data fluency and decision making, design thinking, and UX/UI technology. Those certificates are available through eCornell and Southern New Hampshire University.

Originally, the Live Better U program offered degrees in business, leadership and management. A year ago, it expanded to offer technology-focused and health-related degrees, based on the changing nature of jobs and the new areas the company is heading.

Through Live Better U, Walmart students can earn degrees through Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University, University of Florida, Brandman University, and Bellevue University. For the program, Walmart partnered with Guild Education.

“As our economy and consumer habits continue to change and go through transformation, which is fueled by technology and also the coronavirus pandemic, investing in our associates and their future is as important as it’s ever been,” Holler said.

To date, more than 25,000 full-time and part-time associates have enrolled in the Live Better U Program. So far, the associates completed more than $58 million worth college credits, and more than 3,000 have completed one of the debt-free degrees.

According to Holler, Walmart has seen the benefit of “significantly higher retention and promotion rates” for associates who’ve enrolled.

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on 

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