As a major school-to-industry initiative, Wal-Mart is funding a new program to train up 2,000 D.C. residents for retail positions through the local community college to support the four new stores it plans to open in the area in the near future.
With an unemployment rate over 10 percent and 34 percent of the population considered “functionally illiterate,” any employment training program that is introduced to the city of Washington D.C. should be a welcome addition. That must have been Wal-Mart’s philosophy when it announced that the company would be partnering with the city to launch a three-year, $3 million pilot program to train a new workforce of 2,000 D.C. residents. There is no doubt that Wal-Mart is hoping to gain some good will from the city through its efforts, but there are significant benefits to the residents struggling to make ends meet in the city as well.
New Training at the Local Community College
The new program introduced by Wal-Mart would provide 2,000 D.C. residents with essential retail training to help them land jobs in the industry. In the past, many retail companies have gone outside the city limits – to Maryland and Virginia – to find qualified workers to staff their stores. With this new program, more qualified applicants would be found right in the community, assisting a population with high illiteracy and unemployment rates to improve the standard of living within the city.
According to an article in the Washington Times, the $3 million contribution by Wal-Mart would be split between the new Community College of the District of Columbia and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The community foundation will oversee a grant program to improve computer, language and literacy skills within the D.C. population. The community college will use Wal-Mart funding to provide customer service training and a retail academy that prepares students for retail jobs. The college is in the process of creating a curriculum that will place students in “real life” retail environments, so they can learn to have “productive exchanges” with customers.
“All companies need to develop professional, well-prepared customer service employees, and we see this as a part of that,” Michelle D. Gilliard, senior director at the Wal-Mart Foundation, told the Washington Post. Gilliard explained that the workforce development could benefit Wal-Mart, as the company plans to open four new stores in various locations around D.C. over the next two years. However, she also believes the training will be helpful to other retail companies within the city.
Wal-Mart will launch their training program after announcing plans to open four retail stores in Washington D.C. The new stores will hire 1,200 employees – possibly from the first set of graduates in the retail training program. However, while the company said that the adults who complete the training will be qualified for positions at the retail giant, there is no guarantee that they will be hired for the positions, according to a report at Washington City Paper.
In addition, while Wal-Mart has announced plans to open four new retail stores in the District of Columbia and even toyed with certain locations for those stores, no definite plans are in motion at this time. Currently, the company is navigating its way through the complex maze of the city approval process. Some of the sites up for consideration include locations in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7. A fifth location is also being discussed in the Skyland development district.
The stores will have an urban format, with smaller square footage than other Wal-Mart Supercenters, but the addition of a grocery and pharmacy. Wal-Mart executives said that the addition of these stores will require 1,200 new workers by the time they were scheduled to open in 2012. The company did stress that is committed to hiring within the D.C. area, although none of the graduates of the training program will be guaranteed employment or even preferential treatment.
Jonathan Guevarra, CEO of the Community College of the District of Columbia said that underwriting training programs may be a new direction for corporations to take when it comes to ensuring they will have qualified applicants available for open positions. Guevarra told the Washington City Paper, “To us, this means moving away from the stale, unresponsive traditions that some of us have practiced for far too long.”
Benefits for the City
Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced the plans for the training program this week at the Department of Employment Services Headquarters in Ward 7, near the location of the proposed fifth Wal-Mart retail store. The mayor believes the grant money from program will provide training at the community college that would improve the skills of Washington D.C. residents overall. According to the Washington Times, a 2007 report showed that as many as 37 percent of D.C. residents were considered “functionally illiterate,” which means they can only complete the most basic literacy tasks. In some areas, such as Ward 7 and 8, the rates rose as high as 50 percent.
Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services, agrees with Gray’s assessment. Mallory told the Washington Post that funding is sorely needed to train up a workforce in Washington D.C., “not just for Wal-Mart, but for every retail employer.” Mallory added, “The Wal-Mart Foundation has stepped up to do this, but we’re willing to work with anybody.”
No one knows definitively what will happen at the end of the initial three years of the program. While Wal-Mart says that they will reassess the program to determine if they will offer up additional funding at that time, some in the city are hoping that other retail giants will also step up to do their part.